School bus driver shortage impacts high school sports

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

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The signs are plastered on almost every Main Street in America these days. Now a nationwide shortage of school bus drivers, which extends to Connecticut, is beginning to impact high school sports.

The shortage means that high school athletic directors are having a tough time making sure their teams can show up for their games.

All-Star Transportation, one of the largest bus companies in the state with 18 locations, was down 126 drivers from a full complement as of last week, according to Stephen Gardner, general manager of the company’s Waterbury location. The pandemic has exacerbated a previously existing shortage, Gardner noted.

The regular morning and afternoon school bus routes take precedence in All-Star Transportation’s schedule, so sports and other extracurricular activities are feeling the crunch.

“In years past, we were able to shift people around between locations and cover everything,” Gardner told the Republican-American. “We are no longer able to do that.”

The shortage was a topic of conversation at the Naugatuck Valley League athletic directors’ meeting Sept. 7.

“It’s everyone in the league. It’s everyone in the state,” Naugatuck athletic director Brian Mariano, the NVL president, told the Rep-Am. “We’re already talking about how to adjust our times.”

It’s also a topic of conversation in other states, according to CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini.

“I’m hearing from my associates in other states about it,” Lungarini told the Rep-Am. “We did reach out to the (state Department of Motor Vehicles) to see if there was anything they can do to assist, but it’s not a licensing problem. It’s a workforce problem.”

Now, local athletic directors are left to figure out solutions.

“We have to get creative as to how we’re going to transport kids to the games,” Woodland athletic director Chris Decker said.

One solution is changing game times. All-Star Transportation has an easier time providing buses before the afternoon runs begin or after they end, so some schools are looking at early dismissals to catch 1:30 p.m. buses or moving games under the lights.

Another option is allowing players to drive themselves or hitch rides to away games.

“For a few games, [Woodland is] allowing kids to drive themselves if they have the ability to, or carpool,” Decker said.

For years, Woodland required students to ride the bus to away games unless they had a permission slip signed specifically for a game. This year, students can get alternative transportation permission slips that cover the whole season.

Some schools are also considering bus sharing when two teams are headed to same school, but that isn’t always possible.

“We know we can do that for soccer and volleyball throughout the season, but for other events where we can’t do that, we have to figure out alternatives,” Decker said. “Maybe we can play under the lights, maybe we can play on a Saturday, or maybe parents are going to have to drive.”

Decker said the flexibility of Woodland parents has helped to ease the burden.

“Parents have really been open-minded about it all,” he said.

The Republican-American contributed to this article.