The 2019-20 indoor track season was able to complete its state championships before the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference canceled the remainder of the winter sports season on March 10, but now nearly one year later, the 2021 season is mired in uncertainty.
The sport itself doesn’t pose the same contact concerns as other winter sports like ice hockey, wrestling and basketball, but the issue of venues makes the outlook for indoor track difficult to predict, even with the scheduled start of team practices less than two weeks away.
“There’s only a certain handful [of facilities] in Connecticut and the primary one being Hillhouse,” Plainville head coach Tim Shea said. “That one is so huge and the big thing will be how they manage to get people in, if they let people in. There are a couple smaller ones. Glastonbury and Hartford Public have smaller tracks, but colleges like Southern and Wesleyan, I doubt they’re going to let anyone in. I don’t think the big concern is contact, it’s more the space.”
Much like ice hockey and in some cases swimming, indoor track’s limited venue options pose a problem for the upcoming season. Even if the sport is deemed safe to play, finding opportunities for meets will be difficult. Under normal circumstances, meets bring together a number of teams to help alleviate the small number of available venues, but with the state trying to limit indoor crowding while trying to bring back down positivity rates, that may not be an option this season.
“Indoor track meets could have hundreds of kids in tight crowded environments, which normally are fun,” Shea said. “It’s louder, it’s an intense atmosphere, but with all this going on, we’re trying to see how we’d be able to get in.”
Without indoor venues, almost all local teams already practice outside, but currently, under CIAC offseason mandates, outdoor practices have to be limited to small cohorts, which some local coaches have found to be a frustrating measure.
“At this point, the last I heard before the break, even if I wanted to do strength and conditioning outside at the stadium, I could only have four athletes with me, which means it's functionally impossible,” New Britain head coach Tim Kolodziej said. “I'm very much aware of how serious covid is, but on the other hand, I'm also a realist. I saw a whole bunch of soccer kids out at the stadium right after Thanksgiving break, and that was perfectly fine. I didn't hear about a big covid spread from those outdoor activities that went on this fall. The fact that they put those handcuffs on us is not fair to the kids.”
Kolodjiez coaches the Hurricanes’ boys and girls team, and believes a sport like indoor track badly needs consistent practice and conditioning, especially since the sport is mainly competed year-round, with cross country in the fall and outdoor track in the spring being primarily played by the same athletes who compete in indoor track. But without the ability to bring the team together outdoors, even in larger cohorts than a handful of kids, he is struggling to find chances to keep his student-athletes ready for a potential season.
“They keep pushing the dates out...but there's no time to prepare,” Kolodziej said. “I’m going to have 40 athletes. How am I supposed to have preseason conditioning and get them in shape when I can only have four kids at a time in the whole stadium? We practice at the stadium. We don't have an indoor facility. Unless it's substantially below 30 degrees or there's snow and ice on the track, we're out there every day. They come in hooded sweatshirts and a buy cotton gloves to wear, and we practice outside. Every day I have at least 30 kids in previous years that would be there, between the boys and the girls. Being the only coach...this effectively kills the indoor season.”
The lack of venues could also nix the indoor track season, unless drastic changes are made. When the girls volleyball season was in danger, outdoor play was briefly considered before the lack of playing spaces canceled that idea. Could indoor track make a move outdoors, where most teams already practice? Weather would of course be a factor, but it’s something that some coaches have at least pondered.
“A wild idea would be having meets outdoors, which is all well and good, but [Sunday] night, it snowed,” Shea said. “So that’s the major challenge for indoor. How are we going to get into places to compete, and how many times will we be able to do it? It’s going to be interesting. Indoor itself, you have to think outside the box. We practice outdoors. You have to deal with what you have, so we’d be able to figure it out. We just have to be told what, when and where. I think we’ll be allowed to do something, but it just needs to be sorted out and then they’ll let us know.”
Losing the indoor season would bring about similar fallouts as the loss of the spring season, where student-athletes weren’t able to continue college recruitment or lost their senior years entirely. Some coaches fear the same if the CIAC isn’t able to secure enough venues for this season or if it is canceled entirely.
“At this point, nothing substantial is going to happen with indoor track,” Kolodjiez said. “There won’t' be championships. The exceptional athletes will be able to perform a bit for college coaches, but the middle-of-the-run athletes who need a developmental year to score, their shot is gone. It's just not fair. I've effectively written off the indoor season.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org