On November 17, 2020, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, also known as the CIAC, along with the Connecticut Department Of Public Health (DPH) made the final decision to postpone the start of winter sports to Jan. 19, 2021. The CIAC released a press conference indicating that winter sports will be postponed to practice together on January 19th in order to minimize cases of COVID-19 rising again after the gathering of holidays. After looking at the data the DPH on Dec. 8, the East Shore Health District, the EH Board of Education, and East Haven Athletics Program postponed conditioning once again. As CT COVID-19 cases are increasing, the Governor and DPH urge people to take precautions seriously.
As the rise of COVID-19 affected the start of winter sports, the CIAC Board of Control which includes school principals, assistant principals, and athletic directors came up with a plan that had a variety of reactions from parents, students, coaches, teachers etc... As Mr. Vincent DeNuzzo, a member of the CIAC Board of Control, said, the “CIAC discussed many topics with all the administrators that are on the team. We were the ones who voted on what will happen with winter sports.” The CIAC ultimately decided to postpone all winter sports until January 19, 2021 unless said otherwise by the DPH and Governor's Office.
January 19, 2021 is coming quickly and the CIAC came to this date because, as Mr. DeNuzzo explained, COVID-19 cases in Connecticut are still increasing and a lot of schools are transitioning from in-person schooling to remote learning. He continued to say that, due to the policies of some districts, if they go remote learning they will not allow their athletes to participate. The CIAC took this into consideration in their discussion. Mr. DeNuzzo said, “the CIAC wanted to make sure they did not exclude any schools from being able to play.”
This particular date, Jan. 19, was selected because the schools that have already switched to remote learning, are intending to return on Jan. 4th. This date will allow two weeks before the gathering of athletes and coaches to practice on Jan. 19. Mr. DeNuzzo said this two week notice is very important because with the holidays, people will gather in large groups and during that two week break, they hope to see cases remaining low.
The CIAC also made the decision to postpone conditioning, for the most part, until Dec. 14, two weeks after Thanksgiving, but CIAC made a plan to minimize the number of athletes during conditioning. Mr. DeNuzzo explained that the state along with the CIAC decided to make the practices with only four athletes, a setup that many coaches will find challenging. Due to some sports having a large group of athletes with only one or two coaches, Mr. DeNuzzo said he will talk to the Athletic Director, Anthony Verderame, about hiring new coaches just for supervising. When the season starts these guidelines will change. As of Dec. 8, the EH BOE decided to postpone conditioning due to COVID-19 data and numbers.
Although winter sports have been postponed and many new guidelines need to be followed, Mr. DeNuzzo said, “Kids need to look forward to the fact they are going to have a high chance to play the sport they like.” He continued to explain how they should be motivated to go out and practice on their own for the next 5 weeks. Although the CIAC only allows a group of four to condition together, teams are allowed to do virtual conditioning with coaches and their teammates.
The two sports that are at high risk are football and wrestling. Mr. DeNuzzo said, “Football is scheduled to start by the end of February and go to the beginning of April and it supposed to be about a six or seven week season and the goal is to give teams a total of five games, however, with pushing the winter sports, it may impact the start of football,” but this decision has not been made yet by the CIAC; it all depends on the CT data on COVID-19.
Some of the biggest questions that have circled social media are: Why did soccer have a season while football was postponed? Why was soccer classified as moderate risk and football was classified as high risk? What is the reason that led to that decision?
Some EH students are also confused as to why we are still holding PE classes while we continue to postpone and cancel sport events. Mr. DeNuzzo explained that the rules were set specifically for youth and high school team sports but they did not mention anything about PE classes which is why 20-25 students in a PE class are still allowed.
The reactions by high school students, coaches, parents, teachers or members of the communities were all different. Overall, Mr. DeNuzzo says that back in the fall, people were very frustrated since things were uncertain, but now students and parents are more understanding because of the increase of cases in the state of CT.
Even though the reactions varied, many understand why the decision was made. A senior Pom Pom athlete, Victoria Moll, says, “My initial opinion was that it was thought out well.” Senior basketball player Ian Reynolds was upset in the beginning, but later changed his mind due to the possible rise of cases after holidays. “When I found out our season was postponed I was upset and mad because it's my senior year and all I want to do is play and have a season. However, after a couple of days I actually think it was the right decision because if we started at the original start date of Nov. 21 I think the season would have been stopped due to Thanksgiving and Christmas and kids from all over the state getting together with family and friends for the holidays. So, I think our best chance at getting a season was postponing it at first.”
Girls basketball coach Anthony Russell says, “While disappointed on a certain level, I completely understand. This is the worst public health crisis in a century and we all have to make sacrifices to beat this thing. In the coming weeks, we are going to go virtual at some point if in-person is still not an option. We just have to be flexible.”
One student is upset, but not surprised by the decision that was made. Senior girls basketball player, Erin Curran, said, “I wasn’t very surprised, but I was still disappointed. I was hoping that enough precautions and procedures could be put in place so that we could still have our season. I still have hope for starting in January, but it seems like the CIAC will just continue to postpone or cancel and it’s really disheartening.”
Other students were quite upset about the postponement the CIAC made this year. Senior Wrestling Captain, Mathew DiVito, who plans on wrestling in college at the DIII level, says, “My opinion of the postponement of winter sports was that it was incredibly stupid. I believe this because there is no reason that we can be in school and not play sports. The fact that they allow us to be in school and come in contact with hundreds of people a day but not play a sport is ridiculous. Even more, they allowed all fall sports to play except football. I think that was absolutely insane, seeing how a sport like soccer was able to play.”
The season that the CIAC doesn't want to impact is the spring season since those athletes didn't get to have a season last spring. Senior Captain for Track and Field, Samantha Franceschi, also says, “I was very upset that the winter sports season was postponed. I just want to be able to have meets and practices with my friends. I already had my spring season last year taken away so I was hoping that we could have started on time for the winter.”
A point that was brought up by Coach Mark Tolla was that “Many of these student athletes work year round to enhance their abilities. I find it very difficult and disappointing for them and myself also. I see their grades suffer as well. Sports typically motivates athletes to be better students.” Coaches have seen a drop of grades by their athletes as they aren't motivated enough after having their seasons cancelled and postponed by the CIAC. Pom Pom Coach Megan Butler, says, “I have encouraged the girls to continue stretching and practicing the parts of the routine I have taught them already so that when we are able to return we will have a strong start.” She does this to keep the girls motivated and look forward to their season.
Since this decision was finalized on Nov. 17, students believe the CIAC could have created a better plan for the winter season. Olivia Dymarcik explained that she understands how health and safety is important, but that the CIAC could have allowed only upperclassmen to practice, since they are the ones who are affected the most. Franceschi who runs track also understands they are putting safety first but she believes that with indoor track having only one facility “they could have made the meets one school vs. the other, so there would be significantly less people.” Curran said she is willing to take the risk for her senior season of basketball; she has been looking forward to this moment her entire life.
The Governor’s Office, CT Department of Public Health, and along with the CIAC Board of Control as of now have finalized the decision to postpone the winter sports season to Jan. 19 and conditioning to Dec. 14. In the Board of Education meeting on Dec. 8 the decision made by the DPH, the East Shore Health District, the EH Board of Education, and East Haven Athletics Program was to postpone conditioning once again for later in the month of December. These guidelines and changes have been made to keep communities safe; this is why it is insisted by the state to continue and take precautions by all communities of CT.