With frustration boiling over the cancellation of full-contact football for the 2020 season, student-athletes, coaches and parents from across Connecticut gathered in West Hartford on Sunday afternoon for a peaceful protest of last week’s announcement, which spelled the end for 11-on-11 high school football this fall.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, after failing to get clearance from the Department of Public Health to play 11-on-11 football this year, canceled full contact play on Friday after eliminating the possibility of spring football last month. In response, a crowd of student-athletes gathered at Town Square in West Hartford before marching to Town Hall to urge the CIAC, DPH and Governor Ned Lamont to rethink their decisions and recommendations, which currently indicate that full-contact football would present too many risks of spreading Covid-19.
“I think it was great,” Southington head coach Mike Drury, who was in attendance on Sunday, said of the peaceful protest. “Players from around the state coming together for a common goal. That’s the heart of football. Players and parents are rightfully upset as high-risk and indoor moderate risk sports are still occurring today and given the green light by the governor, DPH and the DECD. These athletes deserve their right to play. The powers at be have been loud and clear on their belief that these should be allowed to occur by their actions.”
It was the players taking action on Sunday, chanting “Let us play” as they marched to the steps of Town Hall, then cheered as various players, parents and coaches spoke out in support of the season being played. Signs read “7-on-7 isn’t football,” a response to a potential alternative for this season that would eliminate linemen from the game, as well as signs that showed the Covid metrics in Connecticut, which have trended down since March.
Players took the opportunity to vent their anger, but the crowd of represented schools, including local teams like Bristol Eastern, St. Paul and Plainville, also gave student-athletes hope that their unity could bring about a desired outcome.
“I think there was some positivity,” Plainville wide receiver and defensive back Dylan Hall, who was at the protest with teammates, said. “The CIAC and DPH, seeing how we all came out and showed support, and still having hope for our season, that shows them how much we care.”
Hall, like many others, was devastated when the news broke Friday morning of the canceled season, and jumped at the opportunity to protest the decision and try to breathe any sense of life into the cause to save football in 2020.
“If this could help us get our season back, I will do anything to do it,” Hall said. “It’s important to me and my teammates to have a voice and hopefully get our season.”
Also in attendance was Hall’s teammate Ryan Barker, an offensive and defensive lineman who would be one of those most affected by a canceled 11-on-11 season given his position. The CIAC has expressed a desire to find alternatives for linemen should a 7-on-7 season become a reality, but players want to see normal football played this year, especially as they watch the sport being played in other states.
“I feel like there was a lot of hope, a lot of drive and determination to not let this be the end of the football season,” Barker said of Sunday’s demonstration. “I felt like a lot of people were excited to be there and to go out and demonstrate how we feel. People were upset and angry, but this shows that we’re hopeful.”
Parents spoke out about their willingness to sign waivers, and many spoke out in support of the players and they work they’ve been putting in together since outdoor workouts began in cohorts back in June, when the state first began to reopen after the coronavirus outbreak.
“It means a lot,” Barker said of the support. “The parents and coaches know what goes on and do a lot of stuff behind the scenes They can appreciate how much time and work goes into the season. It’s not just fall, and they understand that. It was really good to see them back us in this and this movement.”
Barker plans to speak at the next organized protest, which will take place Wednesday in Hartford. Currently, players from 26 schools across the state are scheduled to speak there, including from Southington, Bristol Central and St. Paul. Barker and Hall saw Sunday as a warmup for what’s to come this week, and hopes the next large demonstration will help ignite a change in the current outlook for the season, which is currently bleak.
“I’m glad to see everyone from across the state came out and showed support for the cause,” Barker said. “I know a lot more schools, almost every one in the state, will be out [Wednesday]. But today’s was kind of a precursor to that.”