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Winter Sports Guidance Released: Full Schedule, No Masks Required for Vaccinated Athletes

Hall senior Matt Walker (No. 4), the Warriors high scorer Thursday, is double teamed by Conard's Evan Smart (left) and Ryan Bushnell. Hall vs. Conard boys basketball. Feb. 11, 2021. Photo credit: Paul Palmer (we-ha.com file photo)

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) released guidelines this week for the winter sports season, and mask requirements will change for student athletes as of the beginning of winter break in December.

By Ronni Newton

Both the Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) issued guidelines for winter interscholastic sports on Monday, which include allowing fully-vaccinated participants to forego wearing a mask during competition as of the start of winter break, which is Dec. 23, 2021.

In addition, all CIAC winter sports will be permitted to take place this year – beginning at the traditional time – and all will have a full schedule. Multi-team events will be permitted to take place, interstate competition will be permitted, and CIAC state championships will be held.

“We are excited to continue our return to a more normal, traditional, winter sports season,” Jason Siegal, West Hartford’s athletic director said. “We are still sorting out the winter guidelines and will work with coaches on how these guidelines will look specific to West Hartford athletics.”

Last year, winter sports were not even permitted to begin practice until Jan. 19, and wrestling did not have a season at all. Indoor track was limited to practice only. Masks were required at all times, other than while swimmers were in the water and for gymnasts while on the apparatus.

In West Hartford, practices begin Monday, Nov. 29 for girls basketball, boys and girls ice hockey, and wrestling, and contests are permitted beginning Dec. 13. Practices begin Thursday, Dec. 2 for boys basketball, cheerleading, gymnastics, boys and girls indoor track, and boys swimming and diving, with contests beginning on Dec. 16.

In the guidance released Monday, the CIAC noted that the ability of student-athletes to be vaccinated is a key difference between this winter sports season and last year.

“Vaccination of all eligible athletes, coaches, and officials is currently the most important mitigation strategy we have available for preventing COVID-19 and flu outbreaks on youth sports teams, and in the surrounding communities that support them,” the CIAC guidance states. “The more athletes, coaches, officials, and supporting family members who are vaccinated, the more likely interscholastic and other youth sports teams will be able to avoid repeated COVID-19 quarantines and testing of participants, to keep practicing and playing throughout the scheduled season, and to get back to a ‘new normal’ for youth sports in our state. One major perk for getting COVID-19 vaccinated: individuals who are vaccinated do not need to quarantine if exposed to a COVID-19 case.”

Student-athletes who are not fully-vaccinated will also need to wear masks at all times – including during competition in sports other than swimming and while on apparatus or tumbling in gymnastics or while actively grappling in wrestling. The complete guidelines can be found as a PDF below.

The CIAC guidelines state that the plan will continue to be evaluated and is subbed to change. “COVID health metrics and data in Connecticut will continue to be closely monitored and the appropriateness of holding youth sport and/or interscholastic athletic contests can change at any time. The CIAC will continue to consult with our stakeholders and will adjust offerings as appropriate should the health metrics direct that action,” the document states.

“The CIAC is grateful for the collaborative efforts by the entire interscholastic athletic community in engaging more than 35,000 student-athletes during the fall 2021 season. We look forward to providing safe experiences for our member school student-athletes in the upcoming winter season,” the CIAC said in an email.

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