Football players from around Connecticut protested Sunday in West Hartford regarding the CIAC’s announcement that football will not be played this fall. [Updated with information about rally at State Capitol.]
By Ronni Newton and Jack Cote. Photos by Ronni Newton, Jack Cote, and Carolyn Marshall
An estimated 160 football players from throughout Connecticut, joined by their coaches, parents, cheerleaders, pep band members, and other supporters, gathered in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square at noon Sunday and marched to the steps of West Hartford Town Hall where they rallied for the chance to have a football season this fall.
“Let us play. … Let them play,” the crowd chanted.
— We-Ha.Com (@WeHartford) September 6, 2020
Rally participants were protesting the decision announced Friday by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) announcing that full-contact 11-on-11 football will not be played at Connecticut high schools this fall. “Without DPH support, the CIAC cannot move forward with a full contact season as it would place superintendents and boards of education in the impossible position of acting against the recommendation of a state agency,” the announcement said.
“Look at the science,” one player said, noting that teams have been “working their [butts] off” all summer without any reported COVID-19 spread, in the hopes of being able to play this fall.
Other sports deemed “higher risk,” such as basketball and hockey, have been permitted to take place in the state since early July, but not school-based sports, a protester said.
“Why just football?” another player asked.
“To play, would you wear a mask?” one coach in the audience shouted. “Yes!!” was the resounding response shouted in unison by the players standing on the steps of Town Hall. They said they would play with face shields – they just want to play.
Marty Liscvick, now the athletic director of Staples High School, and a former West Hartford resident, said people need to contact their state representatives, the governor, and DPH, and force a meeting that includes the CIAC and superintendents so that everyone can get on the same page.
“Look at the brotherhood right here,” one parent said, noting the diversity of the group.
“Football is the biggest brotherhood in the entire nation,” said Hall High School senior Divine Edwards.
“It’s my senior year right now,” said Edwards, who hoped to return to play football after missing the past two seasons due to injuries, including a torn meniscus. “Look at everyone right here. I don’t know them but that’s family right here.”
Josh Martinotti, a senior at Lewis Mills High School in Burlington, and the organizer of the rally, pointed to the crowd, noting that there were players from the Shoreline, from the inner city, from the suburbs, all with the same goal.
“We’re just looking for another opportunity,” said Michele Linton, parent of a Naugatuck High School player. “This doesn’t just impact the players,” she said. It’s the pep band, the cheerleaders, and others who lose when the season is canceled.
“As Avon High School football parents, we, along with the athletes here today at this fiery rally, are a family,” said Carolyn Marshall. “We’ve witnessed their blood, sweat, tears, grit, and determination,” she said, both on the field, and in their desire to play.
“Please let them play, play smart, play safe,” Marshall said.
Avon senior Nick Anatulli touched on the mental health aspect of football. “Football is my outlet,” he said. “I’ve always been lonely without football. Football was my brotherhood. It helps me get out my stress.”
“This is my redemption season,” Avon High School player Owen Folkwein expressed.
Folkwein, like many of his teammates and competitors, has had to fight his way through injuries. “When I put that helmet on, I can be me.”
Another rally will take place Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 5 p.m. at the State Capitol.
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