Local reaction to sports plan a mix of emotions

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Jason Palmieri (8) runs with the ball along the sidelines as Sheehan’s Russell Rutkowski (22) comes in on defense during a Class S quarterfinal game in December at Sheehan High School in Wallingford. The CIAC has set parameters for fall sports this year with a later start and shortened seasons. -BILL SHETTLE/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Reaction among local student-athletes and coaches to the CIAC’s fall sports plan amid the COVID-19 pandemic has included a mix of relief, understanding, excitement and frustration.

The most notable changes to the fall sports seasons are a delay in the start of competition — from the original start date of Sept. 10 to Sept. 24 — and a shortening of the seasons. All regular seasons must be finished by Oct. 30 and include no more than 12 games for all sports but football, which will only get to play six.

The CIAC is planning for a two-week “tournament experience” ending by Nov. 15, but details on what this will be have not been decided.

Woodland junior football player Jason Palmieri said he was hoping to play a full schedule this year. The Hawks were set to play all their top rivals, including the first meeting with Naugatuck since 2017, and shoot for a third straight trip to the state playoffs.

“I think that we could have played a full season, but I understand the precautions that needed to be taken by the CIAC,” Palmieri said. “I am definitely disappointed about not playing the teams I was planning on playing. With the shortened season, I still expect to see some pretty big games on our schedule. There are a certain three teams (Naugatuck, Seymour and Ansonia) I would love to play, but I guess we will have to wait and see. I was so hyped to see Naugy on (the schedule) this year, so I hope we don’t lose them now.”

Scheduling decisions will be made throughout this month and will be made with geographical considerations in mind, meaning Woodland and Naugatuck will likely meet in all sports.

Greyhounds boys soccer coach Ryan Kinne thinks the CIAC struck a balance between sports and safety.

“I think it’s a solid plan to return safely while still attempting to provide a competitive season for the student-athletes,” Kinne told the Republican-American. “The biggest thing will be making sure the student-athletes understand the importance of taking the correct precautions inside and out of school as the fate of the fall athletic seasons is reliant on a spike not occurring between now and November.”

Woodland senior swimmer Emily Beyer shared her approval of the plan while being excited to get started.

“I am so happy and excited to start my senior year as swim and softball team captain,” Beyer told the Rep-Am. “I am very thankful that the CIAC didn’t give up on us. We train so hard for all our sports all year long.”

Naugatuck senior girls soccer player Ange Oliveira is also happy that she can plan on playing, but she’s frustrated by what she perceives as a lack of consistency in the decision making.

“I slightly disagree with the decision,” Oliveira said. “There would no longer be a league tournament, which is essentially one of the main points of the season. I feel that yes, COVID-19 is a thing that we need to be cautious and aware of, but if we’re already making the decision to allow contact with others and play games, why should there be a need to cancel the tournament?”

“I also know that fall sports in surrounding towns are participating in summer league games, meaning they’re already in contact with others, exposing themselves and others,” she continued. “So if that’s already happening, what’s the point of delaying anything in the first place? I just feel that what’s being allowed and disallowed isn’t consistent.”

Oliveira also shared the fear that people making poor decisions when it comes to COVID-19 precautions could jeopardize the season.

“I hope that everyone makes smart decisions in terms of taking the least amount of risks when it comes to COVID-19,” she said, noting the importance of masks and handwashing. “I would be naive to say that doing this will ensure that no one in the area will get COVID-19, but it definitely reduces the chances. If one person gets COVID-19 … that would jeopardize my season.”