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Winter Sports ‘A Go’ for West Hartford Schools as CIAC Announces Plan

Azaiyah Felder, with 33 points, was the overall high scorer. Hall vs. Conard girls basketball, Feb. 18, 2020. Photo credit: Hunter Marotto (we-ha.com file photo)

Practices for winter sports will begin on Tuesday, Jan. 19, with competition permitted to begin on or after Monday, Feb. 18, and West Hartford’s athletic director said registration has opened and coaches are ready.

By Ronni Newton

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) paused the high school winter sports season even before it began – on Nov. 17, 2020 announcing that Jan. 19, 2021 would be a reasonable date for sports to resume – and after receiving guidance from the state Department of Public Health and approval from the Board of Control, a winter sports plan was announced Thursday.

Statewide plan

Teams can begin practice on Tuesday, Jan. 19, and competition can begin no earlier than Feb. 8. The CIAC will permit 12 regular season games/meets for girls and boys basketball, boys ice hockey, girls gymnastics, and boys swimming, and while there will be a post-season “experience” within the league for those sports from March 15-28, there will not be any state championship competition.

“DPH recommends against the operation of traditional large, multi-school indoor track meets for the winter season,” the CIAC stated, and initially boys and girls indoor track will be permitted to practice, but meets will not be able to be held until March at the earliest. Smaller indoor meets or, weather-permitting, outdoor meets will be considered as a possibility at that time.

The sports that are being permitted are either low- or moderate-risk, and those that have been classified as “higher risk” by DPH and the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS) Sports Medicine Advisory Committee – wrestling, competitive cheer, and competitive dance – will be limited to small group conditioning and non-contact skill building, the CIAC said. “Sideline” cheer will be permitted, as will exhibition dance, as long as mask and physical distancing protocols can be observed.

Protocols

“All participants, coaches, and officials will utilize a mask that completely covers the nose and mouth, and that is worn directly on the face, at all times including during active play,” the CIAC stated.

“The latest guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that youth athletes wear cloth face coverings when they are on the sidelines, in the locker room, and traveling as well as during group training and active competition.”

The exceptions to mask-wearing are while athletes are in the pool, or while competing in gymnastics where a mask that slips could create a danger for the athlete.

“Mask breaks” will be permitted for basketball and hockey, the CIAC said.

West Hartford Plan

“We’re fully staffed, ready to go,” West Hartford Athletic Director Jason Siegal. A letter was emailed to Conard and Hall families Thursday with updated information about registration for winter sports.

“Now, specific to the winter, we are in a good spot to move forward with practices,” Siegal said. “Of course like the fall, it could change tomorrow.”

Practices will begin Tuesday, Jan. 19 for girls and boys basketball, hockey, indoor track, gymnastics, and boys swimming and diving.

Cheerleading

While competitive cheer is not an option this winter, registration is open for cheerleading with the possibility of sideline cheer teams if there is enough interest. “We will have a conversation with the health director to see if we could cheer at basketball,” Siegal said, with students masked and spread out. Tumbling or stunts would not be permitted.

Wrestling

The ability to register for wrestling remains in limbo.

“We’re still having conversations about wrestling, what we can offer our kids safely,” Siegal said. Non-contact, low-risk skill work and conditioning is permitted, and Siegal said it’s being determined what that will look like in West Hartford, and it could be more than just running and weight lifting.

“As a former wrestler myself, I could think of lots of things that could be done, some sort of skill training,” he said.

Indoor Track

While indoor track will not have competition, at least until March, team practice will begin Tuesday along with the other sports. Training will take place “safely indoors,” and outdoor training will also be incorporated is customary for indoor track participants.

“The CIAC will work with the league to see what can be done with competition in March,” Siegal said.

Meets

For both gymnastics and boys swimming and diving, meets can be held in-person with teams at the same location, or virtually.

“We haven’t officially determined meets for boys swimming but will try to go with in-person swim meets as we did for girls in the fall,” Siegal said. Some other districts may not permit in-person meets, he said, and in that case Conard or Hall swimmers will support that and engage in virtual competition.

There are several format options also possible for gymnastics, and they are under discussion with coaches, Siegal said. Meets can be virtual, in-person, or teams could compete at their own facilities with judges moving from location to location.

Hall did not have a gymnastics team last year, Siegal said, but registration is open and there is a coach. If too few students register to form a full team, there is the possibility of competing alongside Conard as a “team of one,” Siegal said. Despite the term, teams of one can include up to three students from a particular school.

Spectators

“As of now, we are planning to continue with the fall policy on spectators,” Siegal said. “Home team, parents only.”

The exception is boys swimming and diving, where spectators are not permitted at Cornerstone Aquatics Center. The district is working with West Hartford Community Interactive Executive Director Jen Evans to livestream swim meets.

Media, as well as college coaches, are permitted to attend sporting events as long as they contact Siegal in advance and respect physical distancing requirements. “We don’t want kids to lose out on any opportunity,” he said.

Second Semester Alternative and Spring Season

The spring season is scheduled to begin on March 29, the day after winter season ends, and the CIAC announced Thursday that the Board of Control voted and the second semester alternative season will not take place.

“Unfortunately 11 on 11 football will not take place this school year,” Siegal said. Both Conard and Hall did engage in training as well as 7 on 7 non-contact football competition in the fall.

Prior to the pause of winter sports, any sports that were not able to play at least 40% of its games in the regularly-scheduled season had been offered the possibility of competing during a second semester alternative season beginning in late February and lasting through April 17. Only football ended up falling into that category, but high risk sports are still not permitted so the season is not feasible.

“Hopefully we will have a pretty full season for spring,” said Siegal.

Boys lacrosse, however, remains classified as higher risk by the NFHS and DPH. “We are working to get boys lacrosse re-classified as a moderate-risk sport,” Siegal said.

The complete winter sports plan can be found here.

Conard and Hall students can register for winter sports at whathletics.org. Registration will be open through midnight Jan. 16.

“Our number one priority has always been, and will remain, the safety of our student-athletes, coaches and families,” Siegal said in his email to families. “The coaches have worked incredibly hard to plan for this very different season and will do their part in ensuring the safest environment possible. I ask that as a community, we all do our part inside, and outside, the athletic arena. Please follow recommended safety guidelines to ensure we can achieve our ultimate goal … returning to full-time, in-person teaching and learning in all of our school buildings.”

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