The Connecticut Interstate Athletic Conference today decided to postpone the start dates of all winter sports until January 19, 2021.
This decision was very different from the conference’s initial proposal, which would have prohibited all high-risk sports but allowed some medium-risk sports, such as girls and boys basketball and boys swimming, to begin practices as early as December 5 and competitions as early as December 17.
Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the CIAC, which has 186 member schools, said that the board made this decision in light of the fact that more and more schools are moving to distance learning until after the winter break.
Several of these schools, including Hamden, Ansonia and Waterbury, have named Monday, January 18 as their return date — roughly two weeks after the New Year.
“The board felt that this was a decision that gave clear direction and also kept the safety of our school communities at the forefront,” said Lungarini.
Lungarini said that out of the 95 to 100 schools who responded to a CIAC survey, 41.1 percent said that they would suspend all athletic activities if their schools moved to distance learning for any reason, including staffing shortages. Another 14.7 percent said they would allow practices but suspend games.
“The outlook isn’t great in the next couple of months,” said Lungarini. “We want our kids to be in classrooms for instruction as much as possible, we want our communities to be safe.”
Area superintendents respond
Superintendents queried by CT Examiner said they are largely in agreement with the conference’s decision.
“I’m not surprised,” said Ian Neviaser, superintendent of Lyme-Old Lyme schools. “In light of everything that’s happening across the country, I can understand why they made that decision.”
Neviaser also pointed out that winter sports, in contrast to those played in the spring or fall, are predominantly indoor. Since competitions necessarily mean mixing of cohorts, it could become a challenge to guard against the spread of the virus.
Jan Peruccio, superintendent of Old Saybrook schools, agreed that the January 19 start date was a good choice. She said in an email that the decision recognized the impact of COVID on communities, but also will allow the students “to engage in a season that includes enough games to make it a full experience.”
Neviaser said he expected that students and parents would be disappointed, but he hoped they would understand that CIAC made the decision that was in the best interest of the community.
Jeffery Newton, superintendent of East Lyme Schools, echoed Neviaser.
“It’s unfortunate to have delays, but the safety of all students and staff remains a top priority,” Newton wrote in an email.
All winter sports, regardless of risk level, are scheduled to begin practices on January 19, although Lungarini said that the conference will confer with the state Department of Public Health about changes to risk categories and mitigating protocols like mask-wearing, which are set to expire at the end of the year.
The state’s most recent guidelines, released on November 9, classify winter sports into categories of high, moderate, and medium risk.
The Department of Public Health currently advises that high risk sports, which include wrestling, 11-on-11 football, cheer and boys lacrosse, cancel all team practices and competitions. Moderate sports like basketball, ice hockey and swimming can have team practices and in-state meets, but with masks worn during games. Low risk sports like running are also allowed to practice and compete in-state.
Over the next few weeks, Lungarini said, CIAC will be reviewing the calendar for winter and spring sports and possibly making adjustments to competition schedules in order to account for the later-than-usual start date.
The earliest the schools could hold competitions would be January 29, as CIAC bylaws require 10 days of practices before games can begin.