'I hope this isn't a serious message': Area coaches, players shocked, saddened after CIAC cancels remainder of winter sports season over coronavirus

Published on Tuesday, 10 March 2020 16:12


When Newington girls basketball head coach Marc Tancredi heard from the school’s athletic director Chris Meyers that the CIAC had canceled all remaining winter state tournament games amid COVID-19 concerns, Tancredi only had one response.

"I hope this isn't a serious message," Tancredi replied to Meyers.

Unfortunately for Tancredi and his Indians, who were set to host a Class L quarterfinals game Thursday night, the message was a serious one, and it marked the end of Newington’s march toward a state championship, which came to a most unsatisfying conclusion with the CIAC’s announcement Tuesday morning.

“It's shocking,” Tancredi said. “I saw a tweet that the CIAC was meeting and that they would be taking some action, but I didn't think they would just cancel the postseason.”

Tancredi’s response mirrors that of many area coaches who had to break the news to their teams that the season had come to an unexpected conclusion. Kurt Reis, head coach of the New Britain boys basketball team, had coached the Hurricanes to victory in the first round of the Division I state tournament Monday night, but just 15 hours later, the CIAC was hosting its press conference in Cheshire, announcing the final games of the winter season had been played.

“I'm definitely shocked and surprised,” Reis said. “I find it hard to believe that they didn't know this [Monday], and that this was going to be in the works. If anything, they should have just made the decision over the weekend.”

As of the weekend, and as recently as Monday morning, the CIAC had planned to proceed with its state tournaments as scheduled, but precautions were being taken depending on the school district. New Britain capped Monday night’s attendance at 100 fans, and when word of a press conference on Tuesday reached local coaches, many assumed it would be a statement to regulate crowd size, or eliminate crowds completely. Instead, they were met with shock.

“As a coach, we all wanted to make sure we could play while ensuring safety for our kids, so I thought going into it that no fans would be a legitimate possibility, and I was prepared for that,” Innovation boys basketball head coach Matt Lance said. “I went and watched a game last night, so to get this news in a span of 12 hours, you just don't anticipate things accelerating that quickly.”

The Ravens end their season without having played a state tournament game. They received a bye in the first round of the Division II state tournament and were scheduled to host the winner of Newtown and Stamford Thursday night, but instead, the team’s quest to win a second straight state title ends abruptly. But Lance, who gathered his team together at school to relay the news as soon as it was announced, got the sense that missing out on a potential repeat wasn’t what hurt the most about the season coming to a sudden end.

“For me, that's on the back burner,” Lance said. “What really hits you is when you realize that you're never going to get to coach some of these kids again. That's where I'm at right now. Playing to defend that title would have been great, but realizing that this group won't be able to play together again, that's what this group is really struggling with. When we talked as a team, everything came back to how much we care about each other and the brotherhood we have. Back-to-back wasn't even on their mind.”

Amid the disappointment and sadness was also anger and confusion. Reis held a meeting with his players at New Britain High School right after school let out, and the players struggled with the realization that a quest to get back to Mohegan Sun after reaching the state final last year was no longer a possibility.

“Some of the seniors aren't taking it well at all,” Reis said. “I've been coaching since I got out of college, and I've never been put in a situation like this. I don't know what to tell the kids. It's an empty conversation.”

Reis would have liked to have seen a postponement rather than a complete cancelation, and also would have liked to have seen other precautionary measures taken before ending the state tournament in the first round, which was supposed to conclude Tuesday night.

“What I don't understand is how we can't play the game with no fans,” Reis said. “Why is that not an option? We're allowing kids to come to school with either 1,000 or 2,000 kids, but we can't play a game with nobody in attendance? You can at least control that in the gym.”

Tancredi also would have liked to see the CIAC elect to play state tournament games in empty gyms, but instead will be forced to have a similar “empty” conversation with his players like Reis did with the Hurricanes.

“I haven't seen the kids yet, but I have an assistant that teaches at the school and he said the kids are devastated,” Tancredi said. “I feel really bad for them. They worked so hard all season. Obviously I take the coronavirus seriously, but there has to be another way that we can continue to play in the postseason and give ourselves a shot. I'm surprised school systems are still going even though they're canceling other events that bring large crowds of people.”

For Tancredi, this year’s group was one of his best chances to hang a banner at Newington High School. Instead, it marks the end for the high school careers of standout seniors like all-conference point guard Ashanti Frazier. Newington, Goodwin Tech and Southington boys basketball team also saw their seasons end early, as do all of the local swim teams. Many haven’t been able to fully process the magnitude of the CIAC’s decision, but for now, all area coaches and players can do is try to accept the season is over, for some far earlier than planned.

“I don't have all the answers,” Tancredi said. “I'm still trying to wrap my head around this, and right now I'm just thinking of what I'm going to say to my team. We were supposed to practice today, and now what do I say to them, just ‘good season,’ and then we go our separate ways? We had a chance to possibly win a state championship.”

Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or rchichester@newbritainherald.com

Posted in New Britain Herald, Berlin, General Sports, Goodwin Tech, Innovation, New Britain, Newington, Plainville, Southington on Tuesday, 10 March 2020 16:12. Updated: Tuesday, 10 March 2020 16:15.