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Games — Football And Volleyball Included — Now Slated To Begin October 1



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UPDATE: The CIAC Board announced September 4 that full contact fall football would no longer be a viable option.

In the ever-changing, coronavirus-impacted landscape of high school sports, Connecticut team game play is now set to commence on October 1. Football and girls’ volleyball — sports considered high and moderate risk, respectively — are a go as of the calendar turn to September. Everything is subject to change and Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) officials and school team coaches emphasize the fluidity of things.

Previously, competitions were set to begin on September 24 — two weeks after the originally planned start date. Based on Department of Public Health (DPH) recommendations, the CIAC board had paused all in-person interscholastic fall sport activity including conditioning programs for about a week in the middle of August, and many state schools postponed the beginning of the year until after Labor Day, further delaying the possible start of fall season competitions.

Throughout this process, the CIAC has planned what it considers initial low-risk sports conditioning and training with a gradual increase in risk (full team practices with contact, with increasingly longer durations leading into game play) if, that is, the COVID metrics support this progression.

The DPH, in a letter to the CIAC dated August 23, does not recommend playing volleyball as a moderate-risk indoor sport, or football as a high-risk outdoor sport. However, according to the CIAC’s updated fall sports plan, on its website, casciac.org: “This recommendation is not consistent with the ReOpen CT Guidelines for non-interscholastic sport, which have permitted indoor moderate risk and outdoor high-risk sport activities since July 6, 2020. The CIAC continues to discuss and seek clarification from DPH on the inconsistency of this recommendation given that it restricts interscholastic sport opportunities that are otherwise permissible, for the same student population, in the private sector.”

All fall sport activities will be restricted to low risk conditioning and non-contact sport specific skill work, in cohorts no larger than ten, through September 20. September 21 was determined to be the date in which most of the CIAC’s member schools will have been in session for approximately two weeks. The CIAC believes that a minimum of two weeks of COVID data is necessary to determine whether the return to on campus instruction will impact extracurricular offerings.

CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini held a press conference at the CIAC’s Cheshire office on August 27 to provide an update on the CIAC’s fall sports plan and detailed the CIAC’s efforts to allow opportunities for all fall sports to occur.

Football, unlike any other sport in Connecticut is unique in that club or AAU experiences are not offered to student-athletes, said Lungarini, adding that football and volleyball, not unlike soccer, field hockey, girls’ swimming, and cross country, fall into low-risk categories during the preseason based on the early-week preseason practice guidelines.

“The CIAC, in collaboration with medical experts, continues to hold the belief that current Connecticut COVID metrics support playing 11 v 11 full contact football, in accordance with the ReOpen CT Guidelines for non-interscholastic sports. It is CIAC’s intention to make every effort possible to provide Connecticut students athletes with a safe 11 v 11 football season. The progression of activities for football will follow the same deliberate and closely monitored process as other sports,” according to the CIAC’s fall sports plan.

Lungarini noted that there is a belief there could be an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the winter, so putting sports off until spring is not advisable.

A cohort of ten was recommended by DPH for all activities through the first two weeks of school. There will be a three-week period designed to re-acclimate student-athletes to the physical and skill conditioning level appropriate for interscholastic athletics given the extended layoff that athletes may have experienced since last March. The use of any equipment throughout conditioning and the fall season must be maintained and sanitized in accordance with the ReOpen CT sector rules for sport.

The CIAC will collaborate with league commissioners, athletic directors, and coaches to develop a tournament experience during the last two weeks of the fall season. No team will be eliminated from competition during this experience to maximize the number of games each team will be able to play through the fall season.

The CIAC will monitor COVID metrics daily and provide an update to member schools each Friday on the outlook for the following week.

Newtown High School volleyball players practiced indoors while wearing masks this week. The CIAC is looking to determine if it is safe for volleyball players to wear masks during practice and competition to mitigate COVID risk to a lower level.

The sports season has been reduced to no more than 12 competitions for each fall sport, except football which will play a maximum of six games. The state’s team schedules have been revised multiple times as changes have occurred throughout the process. Newtown High School Athletic Director Matt Memoli said the South-West Conference has been broken into regions such that teams will travel short distances and face only close-by conference rivals, and added that the Nighthawks will take on some nonconference teams in the area. Newtown will face New Fairfield, New Milford, Brookfield, Bethel (and Bethel/Immaculate of Danbury co-op), and Pomperaug of Southbury. The revised schedule was not released as of September 2.

The CIAC position on fan/spectator attendance is that fans should not be allowed at interscholastic contests or practices, but guidelines/recommendations have been put into place. According to the CIAC’s plan: “We understand the complexities of individual districts which use public fields and that the ultimate decision rests with the district; however, the CIAC believes that prohibiting fan/spectator attendance aligns best with the goals of education-based athletics. Any allowance for spectators/fans should provide well-marked areas that maintain social distancing and follow capacity guidelines established in Connecticut’s Phase 2 reopening plan and current CDC guidance.”

Marc Kenney, coach of the Newtown High School girls’ soccer team, instructs players during preseason practice on August 31. The team members are optimistic about starting the season, set to get underway with games October 1, pending COVID-19 metrics.—Bee Photos, Hutchison
Soccer players perform a passing drill.
Reminders to wear face coverings are on the outside doors to Newtown High School, as well as on the gymnasium doors.
Volleyball players are wearing masks in practice, and are hopeful their season will be held. As volleyball is an indoor sport, it is considered moderate risk by the CIAC, which has implemented guidelines to make it a low risk sport during preseason.
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