The 2020-21 high school winter sports season won’t be starting any time before the middle of January.
The CIAC Board of Control voted Tuesday, Nov. 17., to postpone the winter season until Jan. 19.
The decision was driven by rising cases of COVID-19 that have recently prompted some CIAC member schools to pull back from in-person learning.
“The reason behind the CIAC Board’s decision is due to the increasing COVID numbers within the state of Connecticut as well as the difficult decision that many schools are facing in moving to a full-distance model at this time,” CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said in a video statement Tuesday.
“The CIAC Board of Control continues to place in-person learning and the health and safety of our school communities as a top priority,” Lungarini added. “In taking today’s action, we believe we are continuing to hold to that standard and we look forward to seeing all of our student-athletes back in action after the first of the year.”
Tuesday’s decision was met with mixed emotions by area athletic directors. They empathized with student-athletes. They understood the CIAC’s rationale.
“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” Lyman Hall AD Steve Baker said. “I feel terrible for the kids. Today was another difficult day.”
“I understand the decision,” he continued. “If you look at the numbers in Wallingford, if you look at the numbers in the state and nationally, I understand the decision. The safety of our kids is paramount. Hopefully, we will be able to get this going later in the (school) year.”
The Board of Control met on Tuesday ostensibly to review and approve a winter sports plan the CIAC had drawn up in consultation with its individual sports commitees, the Connecticut Department of Public Health and the Connecticut Sports Medicine Committee.
That plan called for starting basketball, hockey and boys swimming practices on Dec. 5, games as early as Dec. 17 and delaying a decision on the other winters sports — wrestling, indoor track, gymnastics, competitive dance and cheer — until Jan. 4. One major requirement: Masks would be worn in basketball and hockey.
Tuesday’s postponement to mid-January, as understandable as it was in light of the resurgence in COVID-19, did come as something of a surprise. While the CIAC had already delayed the start of the winter season, initially set for Nov. 21, it was to buy time to solidify the winter plan. All systems appeared to be on course for a Dec. 5 launch.
“It is a little bit more Draconian than I thought was coming,” said one area administrator. “I think we all anticipated that it would be a little earlier than that.”
Said Maloney Athletic Director Bob McKee, “I was a little surprised, just because never, in any of the discussions when we were on a call to CIAC or in our league, never once was it mentioned about being pushed back until January.”
McKee added, “I understand. Every school, every community is going through COVID differently. It’s a challenge for schools and for everyone.”
The Board of Control met Tuesday against the backdrop of rising COVID-19 cases in Connecticut (93,284), nationwide (11.3 million) and globally (55.3 million).
The state’s daily case rates have climbed from an average of less than 100 back in August to over 1,000 starting this month, including a peak of 1,606 on Nov. 9.
The CIAC, in its winter plan, noted that if enough school districts rose into the “red” zone to the point where maintaining game schedules wasn’t possible, the season would be shut down and sports activity limited to conditioning and low risk non-contact skill work.
Short of that, the CIAC was advising individual “red” schools to postpone events, but didn’t ban them outright. “Red” schools could still to compete, but had to notify the school district of the opposing team. Administrators from of both schools would then have to agree on whether to go forward with the event.
Contests against out-of-state or non-CIAC schools had already been prohibited for the winter. So were multi-team events among CIAC schools.
The CIAC was hoping to stage a state postseason for basketball, hockey and swimming in mid-to-late February. The status of that is now uncertain.
The CIAC has also set up an “alternative” season for March and the first half of April to accommodate football, which was cancelled in the fall. That alternative season now looms as something of an option for a delayed winter season.
“Given the circumstances with so many schools in a distance learning mode and numerous towns being issued a ‘red alert’ status, the decision makes sense,” Wilcox Tech Athletic Director Steve Wodarski remarked. “What remains to be seen is if the winter sports will be played while the alternative spring season gets started. While that scenario could force some athletes to unfortunately have to pick between two sports that they would have normally participated in, it would at least give those winter sports a reasonable amount of contests to participate in. I would imagine that we will hear those details in the days to come.”
The delay of the 2020-21 winter season mirrors, at least at the onset, the course of the 2020 spring season, which was delayed several times in incremental fashion before being cancelled altogether.
That was back in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, however. Connecticut, shut down by Gov. Ned Lamont in mid-March, began to reopen in late spring and, by summer, virtually all youth sports were engaged in Little League, AAU and club seasons.
On the CIAC front, an abbreviated fall season was conducted for all sports save for football. The CIAC fall season ran from Oct. 1 through last week, with conferences realigning into regional cohorts to reduce travel and schools limiting the number of spectators, usually to parents and immediate family, to reduce potential exposure.
State tournaments were not a part of the fall season. They were run by the conferences within their regional cohorts. Most swim meets were held virtually.