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With the 2020 fall season now complete, athletes and coaches around the state are anxiously waiting to see if their teams will compete during the winter season, although it won’t be for a couple of months at the earliest.
On Nov. 17, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) announced that it is pushing back the first date of practice for a potential winter sports season to Tuesday, Jan. 19 as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in both the state and the nation. With teams required to participate in a minimum of 10 practices prior to the start of gameplay, the opening date of a 2020-’21 regular season is effectively pushed back to at least the first week of February.
The first day of winter practices had been scheduled for Nov. 21 with the first date of games slated for Monday, Dec. 7. However, on Nov. 5, the CIAC announced that it was indefinitely postponing the start of practices and that it would wait until its Nov. 17 Board of Control meeting to make any additional decisions regarding the winter season.
Last week’s meeting yielded the CIAC’s latest decision to move back the first day of practice to Jan. 19. The CIAC said that it will continue to collaborate with the state’s Department of Health, Governor Ned Lamont’s office, and the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Sports Medicine Committee in the weeks leading up to the start date of winter practices.
“CIAC interscholastic athletics are an education-based experience that maintains in-person learning and the health and safety of our school communities as our top priority,” the CIAC stated in a press release. “[The Nov. 17 decision] supports our member schools while they continue to manage rising COVID numbers within their communities and experience widespread movements to distance learning.”
The sports that are played during the high school winter season include boys’ and girls’ basketball, boys’ and girls’ ice hockey, wrestling, boys’ and girls’ indoor track, boys’ swimming and diving, gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, skiing, and boys’ and girls’ fencing. A few weeks ago, Lamont announced that cheerleading, dance, and wrestling—sports that are considered high-risk by the DPH—would be prohibited from competing through the end of the year. Lamont also said athletes who participate in medium-risk sports such as basketball and ice hockey would be required to wear masks while competing during the winter season.
Another sport considered high-risk is 11-on-11 tackle football, which was canceled by the CIAC this fall, although several teams in the state still participated in independent leagues, while others competed in a 7-on-7 non-tackle format. In September, the CIAC announced a plan to play an alternative season in spring 2021 for any sports that don’t complete at least 40 percent of games during the regularly scheduled season, and 11-on-11 football would fall into that category.
In the alternative season plan, football teams would begin conditioning on Feb. 22 with full-pad practices starting on Feb. 27, scrimmages from March 6 to 13, and a season in which teams could play a maximum of five games between March 19 and April 17. However, that plan was formulated with the stipulation that the regular season for winter sports would commence on its initially planned date of Dec. 7. With that date now moved back by about two months, the CIAC’s recent decision could have an impact on the proposed alternative season.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an abrupt cancellation of the 2019-’20 winter season during the middle of the State tournaments and a complete cancellation of the 2020 spring season. The 2020 fall campaign began on Oct. 1 and was held throughout the past six weeks, but did not include the traditional football season or feature any state tournaments or state championships for the sports that were played, even though several conferences still held modified versions of their annual postseason competitions. Numerous teams throughout the state had games either canceled or postponed as a result of positive COVID-19 cases in their respective high schools, and some had to drop out of their league tournaments for that same reason.
As of press time, there were 99,381 people in Connecticut who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including 4,805 fatalities. Connecticut is 35th in the United States in the amount of total cases and 16th in total deaths. From the period of Nov. 9 to 13, 10,520 people in Connecticut were diagnosed with COVID-19, marking the most in any week since the start of the pandemic.