By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
With less than a month before the scheduled start of the fall sports season, the outlook for each sport on the slate looks a little bit different.
As of last week, the CIAC still planned to offer soccer, swimming, volleyball, cross country and field hockey this fall, but everything is fluid based on how the state’s COVID-19 metrics change with the opening of schools.
The CIAC plans to offer some form of football, though 11-on-11 football will not be played.
In the meantime, local athletes continue to participate in conditioning and non-contact skill workouts as they await the Sept. 21 start of full-team practice. The plans for the start of competition Oct. 1 are still up in the air.
Indoor activities have generally been discouraged throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but girls swimming and diving may have the best chance of any indoor sport. After all, the bulk of athletic exertion happens in chlorinated water.
The CIAC has also proposed the possibility of virtual meets. Details are still sketchy, but the most likely scenarios under this plan would involve two teams swimming a meet schedule separately — either at different times in the same pool or at their own respective pools — and then comparing times to come up with race standings.
Other ideas include a small traveling group of seniors and top swimmers from each team actually competing at meets in person and the rest of the team competing virtually. None of these plans are ideal, but such is life during a pandemic.
Woodland coach Mike Magas isn’t thrilled with the idea of virtual meets because they strip away the boost that in-person competition provides.
“This will be tough as swimmers are by nature competitors and want to race against someone,” Magas told the Republican-American.
Magas, an applied technologies teacher at Woodland, urged patience: “My personal opinion is that we need to get all schools back in session first, be successful with that, then begin our season if we are ready. We know there will be many challenges and we will see how our athletes react as the days and weeks progress. There are still so many changes occurring and we’ll just take things one day at a time and learn to appreciate every day that we can be together.”
The two sports labeled as carrying the highest risk of COVID-19 transmission under the CIAC’s reopening plan are football and volleyball. Football’s contact frequency and volleyball’s high level of indoor exertion elevate the risk of each sport.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health recommended that the CIAC cancel both sports for this fall, but competitions in volleyball is still scheduled to begin as early as Oct. 1. The DPH offered the idea of playing outdoor volleyball matches, but the CIAC determined after consultation with its schools that such an option was unfeasible.
As a compromise, the CIAC put forward a plan to have volleyball players wear masks.
In a statement issued Sept. 4, the CIAC said the organization and its medical experts believe that the modification of wearing masks mitigates the risk expressed by DPH and provides a safe indoor environment for the sport of volleyball.
For now, volleyball teams are continuing with conditioning and noncontact skill practice. Full practice cannot begin until Sept. 21.
In an interview before the CIAC’s announcement about masks, Woodland coach Jim Amato said he continues to prepare for the fall campaign, although he isn’t sure what kind of season the Hawks will have if other school districts continue to cancel their volleyball seasons.
“Girls keep showing up after school, so I coach them,” Amato said.
Amato agreed that the DPH’s suggestion of playing outside was too far-fetched.
“It’s pretty hard to spike a ball wearing a parka,” he said.
While soccer can also see plenty of contact, its return has been sanctioned by the DPH. Teams were allowed to begin practice in groups of 10 starting Aug. 28, and full practices are scheduled to begin Sept. 21 before a schedule of as many as 12 games begins Oct. 1.
In soccer, teams can hold 60-minute practices, with 30 minutes of conditioning and 30 minutes of skill work, until Sept. 20. On Sept. 21, practices will expand to 90 minutes, and teams can either engage in scrimmages or two-hour practices beginning Sept. 26.
Naugatuck girls soccer coach Lisa Mariano, who is a nurse at Danbury Hospital, applauded the CIAC’s effort to make a plan to play in the face of so much uncertainty.
“The plans put forth by the CIAC are not ideal, but doable,” Mariano told the Rep-Am. “The cohorts of 10 allow for less chance of infection. Hopefully, this time allows for better individual foot skills, which will contribute to a better program. You have to find the positives. The CIAC is trying to get a season underway. I feel like the efforts have been great.”
Social distance is built into cross country, but the sport is still subject to the same regulations as all others during the lead-up to the fall season. Issues such as mass starts — the dozens-thick starting mobs which are a staple of cross country meets — will still have to be resolved before the beginning of meets Oct. 1.
“So far we are fine, but we have lots of COVID protocols in place,” Woodland coach Jeff Lownds said. “We’re hoping to have a season.”