As sporting delays and cancelations continue to go into effect across the country, and at all levels of competition, local spring coaches and athletes are concerned about the fate of their seasons, which is looking more and more grim with each passing day.
On Thursday, the NCAA shook the sporting world when it canceled March Madness, but created an additional aftershock when it also called off the College World Series, an event not scheduled to begin for months. Additionally, the NEC and the MAAC, two conferences with a number of schools in New England, canceled spring sports in their entirety. As these unprecedented measures continue to be announced in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, high school sports in Connecticut continues to hang in limbo.
“It’s not looking good with everything that’s going around the state,” New Britain boys volleyball head coach Michelle Abraham said. “I feel bad for the boys. It’s their second season and they’re really excited to start. I’m getting a lot of texts from them asking what’s going on, especially after canceling the CIAC tournaments. But I just told them we’ll have to wait and see.”
Joel Simmone, head coach of the New Britain softball team, saw the latest collegiate cancelations, causing his concern for the upcoming season to skyrocket. First practices for all sports are currently scheduled for this weekend, and the start of the season slated for April 4, but it could become much later than that, if it happens at all.
“There’s a lot of concern,” Simmone said. “Seniors are worried. They saw what happened with basketball and swimming. What worries me is that colleges have canceled entire spring programs, and if they’re canceling, that’s not a good sign for us. At this moment, I don’t even think it’s worry about starting late, it’s more are we even going to have a season.”
Some of Simmone’s questions could be answered on Wednesday morning, when the CIAC plans to hold a meeting with representatives from each conference and league throughout the state. The meeting is expected to address the next step for spring sports, though it is unclear if a final decision will come out of that 9 a.m. meeting.
The week leading up to this meeting has dealt another blow to the outlook for spring sports. Numerous schools throughout the state announced closures for the next two weeks, including local schools such as New Britain, Newington, Southington and Plainville. Multiple spring coaches from those schools have confirmed that teams are not permitted to practice during the closure, though the CIAC had left it to member schools to decide if they were going to allow pitchers and catchers to report on Saturday. The Southington baseball team is one of the groups affected by these closures, delaying practice time for a season in which the Blue Knights were hoping to return to the state championship game. The state tournament is still months away, but even events that far down the line appear to be in doubt.
“We lost some key seniors from last year, but we also have seven or eight returning starters that were juniors, and some started as sophomores,” Southington head coach Charles Lembo said. “We’re really looking forward to this season, but it’s out of our hands. Hopefully we’re able to play, but we’re just kind of playing it by ear. I’ve texted my players just telling them we don’t know what’s going to happen and we can’t control that, but we can only control being ready for whenever they say we can play.”
Certain sports are holding out more hope than others. Boys volleyball is the only indoor spring season, and coaches have more concerns due to the confinement of a gymnasium, while coaches like Simmone have held out hope that outdoor activities would be more likely to survive. But until Wednesday’s meeting occurs, all coaches are nervously waiting, while holding a universal understanding that the current circumstances exceed the spring sports season. None of them want to see their seasons be the latest casualty to this outbreak.
“My outlook is not good,” Newington boys volleyball head coach Curt Burns said. “I was really looking forward to the spring season and going for four [state championships] in a row. We felt we had enough talent back to go for another championship, and now it might not happen. The way things tend to filter down, when it started with the NBA and has been snowballing since then. It’s not looking very positive right now. I feel bad for all of these seniors that have worked so hard for this upcoming season. I’d feel bad for them if they didn’t get to play, but I understand that safety comes first.”