High School Sports to Resume in Fall even as Students Remain Cohorted in the Classroom

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference plans to begin the school year with students allowed to compete in every fall sport if COVID-19 cases in the state remain low.

“For the fall we are cautiously optimistic to return as scheduled, but not as normal,” said Glenn Lungarini, the executive director of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference. “Based on the numbers in Connecticut and the Governor’s reopening plans we will be able to start football on August 17 and all other sports August 27.”

The conference released rules based on guidance provided by the National Federation of State High School Associations and developed with input from the Connecticut State Medical Society as well as athletic trainers, athletic directors and superintendents across the state.

Not normal — as Lungarini describes it — means that students will be given a pre-screening for symptoms of COVID each day before participating in sports. Students will also be required to wear a mask when they are riding a bus or a bench during practice and games. The rules may also limit the number of fan and substitutes allowed on the sidelines.

The conference may consider a shortened playoff season, limiting inter-school competition across the state and more regional play.  

The federation guidance recommends that gatherings indoors and outdoors be restricted to 50 or fewer attendees, that students wear and use their own equipment and that schools track participation in each practice and competition in case a participant tests positive for COVID-19.

“Because the state has done a good job reducing the spread of COVID, we can concern ourselves with more than just COVID,” Lungarini said. “Our focus is on the negative impacts students have faced of social isolation.”

During the 2019-2020 school year, 43 percent of the state’s high school population participated in athletics. Whether a school district participates in conference competitions this year, however, will be up to each superintendent.

“Our superintendents should be looking at the state and local health district guidelines and evaluate the risk in their community independently,” Lungarini said.

As of now, most towns – including Lyme-Old Lyme, Old Saybrook and East Lyme – are planning to allow their students to return to sports practice and games this fall.

Summer sports

If returning to sports seems like a momentous decision for the fall, already as of June 20, adult and youth recreational sports leagues, including softball, soccer and lacrosse, as well as college baseball, have been active across the state.

“We have been more restrictive than the state, only allowing conditioning activities during the summer so far,” Lungarini said. “And yet, they haven’t seen an increase in cases.”

Between June 20 and July 5 there were 162 new cases statewide between the ages of 10 and 19, about 50 each week, less than half the rate of weekly cases identified during the month of May.

Fall athletics

But with the return to classrooms coinciding with the return to high school sports, there is likely a greater possibility of spreading the virus among a larger population than during the summer.

At the high school level, student athletics — which will mix together students from a number of classrooms and schools — would appear to defeat the state’s efforts to cohort students to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“There is always going to be crossover of cohorts,” Lungarini said. “It really only helps with tracing the virus in the case of someone testing positive.”

According to Lungarini, crossover between cohorts, especially at the high school level, is unavoidable — whether in the classroom, on the bus or on their own after school — so, why not have sports?

“We will need to be flexible through this and our recommendations of what to do can change at any time,” Lungarini said. “But a successful return to school provides kids with social and emotional connections too.”