Nighthawk Coaches And Athletes Optimistic, Roll With Changes Amid Uncertainty
Each season brings along many unknowns, but perhaps for the first time in the coaching and playing careers of many Newtown High School athletes, this fall campaign brings with it the highest level of uncertainty they have faced.
The impact of the coronavirus will continue to be felt as preseason practices and games unfold — at least, that is what the Nighthawk team members can hope for. There is a lot of question whether the regular season will begin and, if so, whether it will be completed for a majority of fall sports programs — namely girls’ and boys’ soccer, field hockey, girls’ swimming, and girls’ and boys’ cross country.
Then there are football — traditional 11 versus 11 full-contact football, that is — which this past week was canceled following a Department of Public Health (DPH) recommendation; and girls’ volleyball, considered a moderate risk indoor sport, which is expected to be played with modifications, including players wearing face masks (see related story about these decisions).
Teams have been following what the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference considers low-risk preseason training regulations. The training began with team cohorts of ten, allowing for skill work and conditioning, with the hope things can safely progress to full-length/full-team practices — and then game play.
Practices have been curtailed, the start of the season twice pushed back — the latest with an October 1 start date — and number of scheduled games reduced (a maximum of a dozen for all teams that typically play 18 to 20; football initially dropped from ten contests to six before the season got canceled). Game schedules have been modified with the South-West Conference broken into two regions to cut down on school travel. Teams will pick up some nonconference games against close-by opponents, Newtown Athletic Director Matt Memoli said. An early November postseason tournament experience is planned for each sport, assuming the season makes it that far.
Football captains from across the state and state officials are urging Governor Ned Lamont to speak to DPH and CIAC representatives about allowing a traditional football season to take place, Memoli said. There have been suggestions for football being moved to the spring, something the CIAC had announced would not happen, but that was prior to backing off its stance that football will be played this fall. Everything is subject to change and has been changing with regularity.
Newtown High football players were practicing hard at Blue & Gold Stadium this week. What they were practicing for is an unknown.
“We’re hoping they will have some type of football experience,” said Memoli, adding that, if nothing else, the athletes have a chance to be together practicing and competing in a practice setting.
“The kids have been amazing,” Memoli said of the football players, some of whom were on the field, running routes and training the day their season was canceled.
“It’s devastating for our football family. And across the state players, coaches, and parents are devastated — especially for the kids,” Bobby Pattison, coach of the NHS football team, said of the announcement of the traditional 11 versus 11 season being canceled.
Pattison added that the seniors are missing out on something special to them, saying, “I really feel for them in particular and I’m not alone.”
“We have to stay positive and continue to work hard. When the time to play football comes, we have to be ready to play,” the football coach said last week, before this decision. “The kids are aware we might not have a season and we might have a season — and it can change quickly. I’m hopeful. We’re doing our best to keep the kids in shape strength- and conditioning-wise. The kids are excited to be back.”
Even after the CIAC said an 11 versus 11 season will not happen, Pattison remains hopeful that there will be a traditional season this fall, or in the spring, after all. The coach said he wants to exhaust every opportunity for the football team members to play.
“Whatever they require, we’re willing to do to have a season. We’re hopeful and optimistic,” Pattison said. “We have to continue to practice as if we’re going to play.”
The other teams are hopeful they can make it through the fall slate.
“It’s definitely hard to keep everyone optimistic,” said girls’ soccer captain Emma Magazu, adding that the team is hopeful.
“I think the CIAC has done a good job of trying to get kids out there to play. I’m confident it will happen as long as people follow the rules,” said Marc Kenney, coach of the NHS girls’ soccer team.
Team members have to wear masks except while engaging in activity on the fields. Social distancing is practiced, even during drills, as teams try their best to gear up for competition.
“I’m pretty impressed with how everyone’s doing with following the rules,” girls’ soccer captain Ally McCarthy said.
Sarah Nowacki, a volleyball player at NHS, said wearing masks is not so easy, and suggested that more breaks in the action could help. Whether or not the season gets played out remains to be seen. “We’re trying to stay hopeful,” Nowacki said.
“This is new for everybody. We’re all going through it together and making changes as we go along,” said Tom Czaplinski, head volleyball coach for the Nighthawks.
Ellen Goyda, Newtown High’s new field hockey coach, recognizes that this is a challenging situation for the student-athletes, but is encouraged by their attitudes.
“The impressive part is they haven’t really expressed it. They’re staying positive, they’re upbeat. They just want to play,” Goyda said.
The girls’ swim team took advantage of the outdoor opportunity to train at Treadwell Park, but pool space is limited, so a pair of one-hour sessions were held on practice days prior to school opening this week, allowing the team to be split up and for the number of swimmers in the pool at once to be significantly reduced.
“We’re trying to do what’s best for the kids and give them a sense of normalcy,” said Becky Osborne, coach of the swim team.
“I’m cautiously optimistic. We’re going to do what we can to make everything move forward as smoothly as possible,” Osborne added.
Seniors are traditionally honored at the last or close to the last home contest of the season, but since a full season is no guarantee this time around, teams are adjusting.
“If we do compete, our first meet is going to be Senior Night just in case,” Osborne said.
“We’re going to give these kids a season. I just don’t know how it’s going to look,” said Memoli, referring to sports across the board.