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High School Sports Scheduled for Fall Return, for Now

The Hall High School boys soccer team poses with the championship plaque. Class LL State Championship. Nov. 23, 2019. Photo credit: David Heuschkel (we-ha.com file photo)

The CIAC released a plan Friday for the resumption of interscholastic athletics this fall, and West Hartford Athletic Director Jason Siegal said that Conard and Hall teams plan to begin practices this month according to that plan.

Gavin Sherry of West Hartford’s Conard High School in the lead on the Wickham Park cross country course in 2019. Photo credit: David Heuschkel (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference – CIAC – released a plan Friday for the resumption of high school sports, and while the plan is for all traditional fall sports to have seasons, albeit delayed slightly and with reduced schedules, the caveat also remains that changes are possible following review from education leaders and updated COVID-19 data.

“We’re planning to start in late August/early September,” in accordance with the CIAC’s plan, West Hartford Athletic Director Jason Siegal told We-Ha.com Friday. “We want to make sure that if we continue to get green lights, that we will be prepared.”

Just after the CIAC released its plan, West Hartford Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore notified families that the district will begin the school year under the hybrid model, with roughly half of students attending in-person school each week. Siegal did not yet know how that will impact sports.

Youth sports resumed in Connecticut in late June, with baseball, softball, soccer, swimming, and other sports among those practicing and playing games in town-wide as well as travel and club leagues. West Hartford’s Hall High School was even the site of the region’s only competitive summer track program, “Track is Back,” a successful three-meet series coordinated by Steve Boyle of 2-4-1 Sports and Hall cross country and track coach Jeff Billing.

Although COVID-19 metrics have continued to improve or hold steady, “the CIAC understands that education-based athletics experiences differ from club, AAU, and recreational offerings,” the CIAC said in a news release Friday.

The CIAC plan, which can be found in full here, was developed with the input of multiple experts from the Connecticut State Medical Society Sports Medicine Committee and other medical professionals, athletic trainers, coaches, and state officials, athletic directors, superintendents, and principals.

The plan specifically states that it is fluid, and will continue to be updated “as more data, health metrics, and sport specific information becomes available.”

“If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the school/district must be notified immediately and local [Department of Public Health] must be contacted. The local DPH will direct the appropriate process. The CIAC will continue to work with local districts and DPH to define the process as more information becomes available,” the plan states.

Conditioning has been permitted in cohorts of up to 10 students, and some of the Hall and Conard teams have been involved in those activities since early July, Siegal said. Cohorts are permitted to increase to 15 as of Aug. 3, the CIAC plans states, but Siegal said that for now West Hartford will keep the groups at approximately 10 participants.

“That’s been working for us,” he said. “We want to keep athletes in the safest environment possible.”

Interscholastic athletics were suspended in mid-March, and many student-athletes have not had the opportunity to engage in any structured conditioning since then. All sports will have at least three weeks of practice/conditioning prior to the start of any competition.

Practices in cohorts of 15 are scheduled to begin Aug. 27 for cross country, girls and boys soccer, field hockey, girls swimming, and girls volleyball. Football practice begins earlier, on Aug. 17.

Contests will begin on or after Sept. 24, and the season will end on Oct. 30. End-of-season tournaments will conclude by Nov. 15 at the latest for all sports, including football.

“The goal is to allow for as many participation opportunities as possible for all teams and schools within the challenging current circumstances, and for that reason tournament experiences will not follow traditional CIAC Fall State Championship formats,” the CIAC release stated.

Courtesy of CIAC

Schedules will be structured so that contests take place on a regional basis, keeping as much competition within the league as possible.

Attendance at games and meets will be dictated by the district in which the event is being held, the CIAC plan states, as well as by statewide mandates regarding gatherings.

Physical distancing of at least 6 feet will be required for all who are on the premises, other than athletes who are actively participating. A COVID-19 screening regimen is also required by the CIAC.

Regarding the wearing of masks or other face coverings, the CIAC plan states: “Cloth or disposable face coverings, approved by local DPHs and school districts, should be worn when not engaging in vigorous activity, such as when sitting on the bench, during chalk talk, interacting with an athletic trainer, etc.” – but NOT “when engaging in high intensity aerobic or anaerobic workouts, distance running, or swimming.”

Officials and coaches are required to wear masks or face coverings.

The plan, which provides specific guidelines for each sport, also includes a section about hand washing/sanitizing, hydration (bring your own water bottle), and use of weight rooms and locker rooms.

Each school or district will establish a COVID-19 advisory committee, with suggested members including a school doctor and nurse, athletic director, athletic trainer, principal, and coach.

“There is a great plan in place for when we start hitting our target dates,” Siegal said. He said he is moving ahead as if the fall season will take place as outlined, continuing to hire coaches, meeting with existing coaches, and getting lots of input.

“We will be ready to go – until we have to pivot,” said Siegal, noting the need to remain flexible.

“Literally it’s one day at a time,” he said. “We know it’s fluid and it could change on a dime.”

Since some sports are higher risk than others, it’s possible that some sports will ultimately be allowed to take place while others will not be permitted. “I don’t know if it will be one-size-fits-all,” said Siegal.

He praised CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini and the CIAC staff for their work on the fall sports plan.

“It’s amazing work they’ve done, and continue to do every day,” said Siegal. He said Connecticut’s plan is really a great model for the country.

Sports are important to students, said Siegal – physically, mentally, emotionally.

However, he added, “Our No. 1 goal is getting kids back to an education that’s as safe as possible.”

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