The year of 2020 is (finally) coming to a close, and with it will bring an end to what likely was the biggest roller coaster ride that high school student-athletes have ever endured.
From lost seasons to foreign playing conditions that could be nothing but embraced given the circumstances, 2020 offered local athletes a brutal lesson in powerlessness, and those athletes received nothing but praise from the coaches, athletic directors and the CIAC for handling a year unlike any other, and carrying out every necessary precaution to try and have any type of season.
So, before this calendar year wraps up, and with it the hopeful arrival of a more normal one, let’s recount all the twists and turns that made up the year in high school sports.
It’s hard to believe that we’re only a few months out of making this a full year since the coronavirus pandemic has been hanging over high school sports, and everything else, like a dark shadow, but March is coming up quickly, and with it the anniversary of an unprecedented but progressive move by the CIAC, which canceled the remainder of all winter state tournaments.
“The CIAC understands and appreciates the disappointment that student athletes, parents, coaches and administrators may feel as a result of this decision,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said in a press conference that began with the handing out of hand sanitizer. “However, we must always place the health and safety of our student athletes first.”
The move marked the first time in nearly a century that a boys basketball state title game wasn’t held by the CIAC. By this time, precautions were being carried out across the state as the covid outbreak began to spread quickly through Connecticut. The New Britain boys basketball state tournament game on March 9 was limited to 100 people, and other districts had already declared that no fans would be allowed. Some districts had already said they would not be competing at all. But in the CIAC offices in Cheshire on the morning of March 10, everything was shut down, and no high school competitions would take place for another seven months.
A large peaceful protest was held outside of the CIAC offices days later, urging the CIAC to change its decision, but within weeks, it became clear that it was the safe move.
While the CIAC was aggressive in its decision to cancel winter sports, it held out as long as it could for spring sports, but eventually canceled the season, one of the last states in the country to do so.
The CIAC had already canceled spring state tournaments in late April, and with schools across the state in a distanced learning structure for the rest of the academic year, hope for a spring season was lost. Plans originally had a season occurring just in the month of June, even pushing the end of the season back a couple weeks past the end of the school year, but in 2020, not one spring sports competition was played.
After putting together plans for a fall season that originally was supposed to start on normal time, the CIAC was forced to adjust its plans multiple times as new guidelines came in from the Department of Public Health, and just one day after the CIAC met with DPH, the CIAC announced that the start of the season would be delayed. Six days later, the CIAC held a press conference to announce that all fall sports, including football, would attempt a season in the fall, but it would be delayed even further, with competition starting no earlier than Oct. 1.
After trying to put together as many mitigating strategies as possible to reduce the risk of covid spread, the CIAC and DPH were unable to align on safety precautions for football, and full-contact sports were taken off the table for the fall. The CIAC announced plans to create a moderate-risk season for the fall, but the sport would not be played in its usual form. Peaceful protests followed, but the CIAC reaffirmed its decision two weeks later, but left the door open for spring football to be played, which is still part of the current plan.
High school sports in Connecticut are held for the first time since March 9, though there were quick reminders that this wouldn’t be a season like any other. Girls volleyball games were played with masks on at all times, while most home venues allowed no more than two fans per home player in the stands. Some schools, like Newington, allowed no fans at all. On this season opening day for fall sports, both Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central boys soccer teams were forced to wait a bit longer to get on the field, as a positive covid case on the opposing team led to their games being postponed.
The season endured many hurdles, such as the St. Paul boys soccer team being quarantined for two weeks due to a positive covid test, while New Britain sports were shut down for a week when the school moved to distanced learning. But the fall sports season was eventually completed, with regionalized championships instead of normal state tournaments.
After an original proposal by the CIAC had winter sports beginning as early as Dec. 17 (which was a slight delay from original plans that had the season starting two weeks earlier), the CIAC announces that all winter sports would be delayed until Jan. 19, when it believed most schools would be back to in-person learning following the holiday break.
Rising covid cases across the state had put high school sports in jeopardy once again, especially given the atmosphere of winter sports, which are all played indoors. This remains the current plan for the CIAC, which is still working out scheduling for the proposed season. But no games can take place until at least 10 days after practices begin, meaning the earliest that winter sports can begin is at the end of January. The plan is to hold three sports seasons over the next six months, including an abbreviated football season in between winter and spring sports, but the covid outlook in Connecticut will determine that.
As we stand here now with just a few days left in 2020, the fate of winter sports is still uncertain, which would have been hard to believe back in March when the last winter sports season was disrupted.