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Article Published August 17, 2020

Filippone and the Tigers Have More Questions Than Answers

By By Dean Bibens

Just a couple of days after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) doubled down on its intentions to play the fall season, the organization changed its mind and announced that it is prohibiting any teams from participating in sports activities until Monday, Aug. 24. The CIAC’s decision to put everything on pause came on the heels of a recommendation from the Connecticut Department of Health (DPH) to push both football and volleyball to next spring.

Like many football teams throughout the state, the Daniel Hand football squad had been participating in conditioning with an eye toward beginning organized team activities on Aug. 17. However, the Tigers will now have to wait at least another week to get started with that as the CIAC tries to figure out its best course of action in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The six-game football season is still tentatively scheduled to kick off on Thursday, Sept. 24.

Head Coach Steve Filippone understands that the CIAC is in tough position and remains hopeful that the CIAC will ultimately make the best decision for everyone.

“It’s difficult for anybody to have to make a difficult decision, but that’s what people get paid to do,” Filippone said. “My first thought was, whenever I am in a position that I have to make decisions, I consider three things: the most likely outcomes, the least likely outcomes, and the moderate outcomes. I game-plan for those possibilities, but for the most part, I dismiss the things that are very unlikely to happen.”

Early on last week, the CIAC football committee made a recommendation to move the 2020 football season to the spring of 2021, but the CIAC Board of Control essentially negated that recommendation by unanimously voting to continue with its plan to play fall sports as scheduled. However, when the state’s DPH made the same recommendation as the football committee, the CIAC switched up and decided to halt everything until Aug. 24.

Coach Filippone feels that the CIAC should have come to a concrete conclusion before putting football players around the state through “a roller coaster of emotions.”

“Does anybody think that they shouldn’t have had a definitive answer? Not a maybe, not a possibility, but a definitive answer on what the answer to fall sports was,” said Filippone. “And for that matter, [Governor Ned Lamont] should have stepped up and gotten more involved in this.”

Filippone was disappointed that the head of the CIAC football committee, Harry Bellucci, and other members of the committee went forward with their proposal to move the season to the spring without consulting more football coaches around the state.

“I was the coaches’ representative on that committee for over a decade. Whenever we had a major decision to make, we took into account the opinion of every coach across the state,” Filippone said. “For this decision to move the season to the spring, I know for a fact that I didn’t receive a survey question from the committee, and several other coaches didn’t, as well. And that’s not to bash the committee. They are all working really hard, and we all want the same thing.”

Coach Filippone and his athletes have been bonding through their conditioning sessions during the past few weeks. Filippone said that he does not want to go back to coaching his team virtually after having spent quality time with his players in person.

“We are not allowed to run these workouts. We’re not allowed to be with them. I’m not going back to virtual, and I’m not going back to Zoom calls,” said Filippone. “Either I can see them face to face and be able to look them in the eyes, or we can cut them loose and let the CIAC figure this out.”

Wide receiver Will Flanagan and center Ryan Bordiere were unanimously elected to lead Hand as its senior captains this year. Other key players returning for the Tigers are seniors Colin Telford and Conner Quinn, who both play safety; fellow senior Tommy Bambrick, a two-way lineman; along with quarterback Patch Flanagan, running back Ethan O’Brien, and wide receiver Seth Sweitzer, who are all juniors.

Filippone is holding out hope Hand’s athletes will get to take the field at some point, especially so his seniors can enjoy one final ride with the Tigers. Filippone would feel bad if a kid like offensive lineman Aidan McCabe didn’t get to compete this year. McCabe suffered a severe knee injury as a member of the wrestling team as a sophomore and missed out on his junior football campaign, when Hand finished with a record of 12-1 on its way to making the Class L state final.

“It took him a year-and-a-half to rehab that knee and get back to where he was. All he asks me every day is if we are going to play,” Filippone said of McCabe. “The hardest thing for me is having to look him in the eye and tell him that I don’t know if he will get the chance to have a senior year. That’s really hard. He’s got one last chance to play football, and I’m hoping that he gets the chance to play in the spring if we don’t have a fall season.”

Whether football is ultimately played in the fall, the spring, or not at all, Coach Filippone just wants the CIAC to arrive at a final decision one way or the other, so that everyone knows where they stand.

“Either it’s safe to play or it’s not,” said Filippone. “And we need to come to a decision sooner rather than later.”