CHESHIRE – High school sports in Connecticut have been absent since March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and even fall sports remain in question as to if those will be able to begin play at their normal start dates.
But the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference is already preparing for a potential return of high school sports, releasing guidelines for resumption of play on Friday morning.
The 18-page document details rules and regulations for sports to follow when those sports are safely able to practice and play again, though the document immediately acknowledges the fact that while these rules have been written out, it doesn’t mean a return to play is imminent, as things could change with the trend of the virus, or a potential second wave.
“The document is intended to provide guidance on considerations for safely returning to interscholastic athletics and activities experiences,” the CIAC said in a press release in inclusion with the guidelines. “It is understood that the guidelines do not fully mitigate any COVID-19 risk, and, therefore, school districts, parents, athletes, coaches and officials should make individual determinations on when it is safe to return. School districts should consult their local departments of public health prior to implementing a return to in-person athletics or activities.”
But should things proceed as scheduled, and the best-case scenario unfolds, the fall season would be able to start on time, as the guidelines listed Aug 31 as a potential date for all sports to return to competition.
“If we had a perfect scenario…if you look at fall sports schedules, none play until after Labor Day,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said. “So if all goes well, fall teams could have a normal schedule.”
Of course, plenty of guidelines would still be put in place whenever sports resume in Connecticut. As the state slowly reopens, face coverings are still mandatory when out in public places, even outdoor seating at some restaurants when not actively eating or drinking. When it comes to sports, the CIAC is recommending that athletes do not wear face coverings during play, but they “should be worn throughout each phase when not engaging in vigorous activity, such as when sitting on the bench, during chalk talk, interacting with an athletic trainer, etc.” The guidelines also recommend coaches and officials to wear masks at all times, with officials being allowed to use artificial noisemakers like an air horn instead of a whistle.
The CIAC also details a recommendation that each school develop a COVID-19 Advisory Committee to meet regularly during each athletic season to address concerns as they arise and to stay informed on the best precautions to put in place as more is learned about the coronavirus. Additionally, all staff and students will be required to self-screen for the virus, including confirming body temperatures below 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The document also details the risk levels for each sport as listed by the National Federation of State High School Associations, with low risk sports including individual running and swimming events, golf and cross country, as long as starts are staggered. Moderate risk sports include volleyball, baseball and softball, and higher risk sports include wrestling, football, basketball and lacrosse. While each sport could present different levels of risk, the CIAC acknowledged the potential risks of transportation for all sports, and said that it will “work with member leagues to consider options that would reduce the strain on busing and cost of transportation.” Options listed included regional play, reduced games scheduled, weekend jamborees and parent transportation. So, even if fall sports are able to start on time, the season could look a lot different in terms of opponents and the amount of games played. The season could start on normal time, but it could still be unique. The annual Connecticut Football Alliance, which saw the Berlin football team travel as far as Killingly last season, could be affected in 2020.
The CIAC also listed out tentative dates for sports being phased back into action, though it did make sure to include that moving from stage to stage would be announced by the CIAC along with the Connecticut State Medical Society, Sports Medicine Committee, and that the tentative dates listed are best case scenarios. The dates include the highest risk virtual stage running through at least July 5, where no athletes or coaches are allowed in attendance for practice or competition, and no in-person meetings are allowed. Should Governor Lamont provide approval to move on to the next stage, the CIAC would begin the high risk in-person and virtual stage on July 6, which would last for a minimum of four weeks, or until Aug 2. This will begin the implementation of in-person small groups, where athletes, coaches and medical staff would all be allowed in attendance. The groups would be limited to 5-10 of the same cohort of students working out together no more than three times per week, with the focus being on physical condition while still maintaining a distance of six feet. Physical contact would be prohibited, and all activities would have to be outdoors, while locker rooms would remain closed.
Should clearance be given by the beginning of August to advance to the next stage, the CIAC would begin the low to moderate risk competition stage on Aug 3, which would also last for a minimum of four weeks, which will allow officials, event staff, security and limited media for low and moderate risk sports, which could mark the return of fall sports like soccer and cross country. Up to 25 people may practice together indoors during this stage, and 50 outdoors, though athletes should remain grouped in smaller numbers, and any scheduled competition should be limited to within a town or local region. This would be the first stage where league play can resume, with schools considering the transportation restrictions that would be put in place.
Should all proceed as scheduled, high risk sports would return to competition in the high risk competition stage on Aug 31, and would also be the stage where spectators would be allowed to participate. Competitions would not be limited in number of participants, and scheduling practices may return to normal. Face covering and sanitation guidelines would still be in place, and there would be no sharing of athletic towels or clothing allowed between students. Athletes would be required to bring their own water bottles, but it would be the closest return to normal since the beginning of March.
Fall sports would be the first to return, as spring sports were canceled, but the CIAC makes sure to note in the document that team practices will not be allowed until the CIAC officially announces a start to the fall sports season. The stage dates are best case scenarios, but if all goes well, we could start to see competition within two months, and a fall season started on time.