There may be reason for cautious optimism about winter high school sports.
The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s Board of Control approved “mitigating strategies” for winter sports on Thursday morning and will share them with member schools in the coming days.
The approval came after the the Board of Control discussed “recent communications with the Connecticut Department of Public Health and appraising the current level of in-person learning around the state.”
The CIAC, on Nov. 17, 2020, delayed the start date for winter sports practices to Jan. 19 due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re still planning that we are going to be playing sports in the winter season,” CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said in a Thursday night phone interview, “and at this point, we’re still planning that we’re going to hold tournaments, state championships, in the winter season.”
Lungarini also told the Hartford Courant that both basketball and hockey would have a 12-game season.
The Board of Control is scheduled to meet again on Thursday, Jan. 14, and anticipates reviewing recommendations from the DPH and the Governor’s Office.
“Jan. 19 is the date we’ve targeted and until we either determine otherwise or are informed otherwise, that date remains the (one) we’re discussing,” Lungarini said. “I think we need to be realistic and take into account just where we are as a state right now. If you think back to the beginning of the winter, we were talking about what states were going into a red category in terms of COVID classification.
“Now the entire state virtually is in a red category. I think there’s maybe a handful of towns that are in gray or orange right now. That is something, again, you have to be aware of, you have to have conversations around, and we want to give time for our individual member schools to make decisions of what’s in the best interests of their schools and their communities.”
The CIAC sanctioned an abbreviated fall season that ran from October to early November with most of the sports being played outside. The state’s DPH recommended postponing sports it considered moderate risk (volleyball) and high risk (football) to the spring.
Volleyball was eventually held with players and coaches wearing masks. Football was the only sport that wasn’t sanctioned as the CIAC opted to heed recommendations of the Governor’s office and DPH to not hold high-risk sports.
The CIAC did agree last September to consider full contact 11-on-11 football for the spring as long as it didn not negatively impact spring sports.
The National Federation of State High School Associations released guidance for its member schools last May and labeled basketball, gymnastics and hockey “moderate risk” sports. Individual swimming and indoor track’s running and throwing events are considered lower risk. Cheerleading and wrestling are the CIAC’s only winter sports considered higher risk.
Thirty three states have modified basketball seasons and 18 made no changes, according to the NFHS.
Thirty-nine states have modified wrestling seasons, according to the NFHS. That includes Vermont, which canceled its season in November.
Connecticut averaged 63.3 daily positive COVID cases per 100,000 residents (15,791) over the last seven days, according to data updated Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number places the state 26th overall in the country.
New London County had 11,867 confirmed cases as of this weekend, according to the state Department of Health, fourth overall among of the state’s eight counties. By comparison, New Haven is third (48,063).
New London County and Middlesex County are tied for fourth in 208 confirmed deaths. New Haven County is third with 1,375.
Lungarini, when asked if he believed a high school season was possible with so much of the state in red, said, “I do think it could be held, especially where the infections and hospitalizations are a in a downward trend.
“We did anticipate that there would be spikes after the holiday season. We expected spikes after New Year’s, but I think Connecticut is doing a very good job with the rollout of the vaccines. Hopefully attention to general mitigating strategies will help us return to those (lower) COVID numbers that led the country in the fall.”