CHESHIRE – Time continues to dwindle on a potential spring season for high school sports as the calendar gets ready to hit May, but the CIAC met on Thursday morning and decided it was still not ready to cancel the season entirely.
But if there is a season, it will look drastically different.
The CIAC announced on Thursday afternoon that any state championship competition for the spring season has been canceled, and while the organization is still leaving the window open for some semblance of a season, it would be confined to only the month of June.
“Carrying spring sport experiences from the current school year into July presents significant challenges for school districts and student-athletes,” the CIAC said in a statement shortly after its meeting with the Board of Control.
While hopes of a shortened season are still alive, the outcome of Thursday’s meeting also determined that should Governor Lamont decide to close schools through the remainder of the school year, that would spell the end of any kind of spring season.
“If it is determined that school buildings will remain closed, and distance learning will continue through the end of the 2019-2020 school year, then the CIAC will cancel all spring sport experiences,” the statement read.
The ruling leaves spring student-athletes without the ability to compete for a state championship, and given the cancellation of numerous sporting events at the collegiate and professional levels, Thursday’s announcement served as confirmation for what many already feared.
“I think we all knew it was coming,” Bristol Central baseball coach Bunty Ray said. “We've been trying to hope for the best, but the reality is that things just aren't getting better at this point.”
For Ray, his first thought after hearing the news went to his soon-to-be graduates that have officially played in their last state tournament game.
“You just feel for the seniors,” Ray said. “I keep reaching out and communicate with them and see how they're doing. There are other things going on for these seniors outside of sports. You're talking graduation, prom, and seeing their friends. There are also upperclassmen that wanted to show themselves to colleges and underclassmen who wanted to fight for a varsity spot. It'll be interesting even next year when a whole year goes by if summer leagues don't play, just to see what this looks like. There's a lot to wrap your brain around.”
Roberto Mercado, head coach of the New Britain baseball team, also feels for his senior Hurricanes that won’t get to avenge a walk-off loss in last year’s state tournament, but at this point, having hope that they still might be able to play in some capacity is seen as encouraging news.
“I'm all for the kids getting out there,” Mercado said. “I'm all for them having some sort of season so the kids can take the field together and have one last hurrah. I'm O.K. with it. I know some people may be upset...but how can you have a state tournament when you only have a five or 10 game season? I just appreciate they're not jumping the gun and canceling everything. But in the end, it's really up to the governor on if we go back to school.”
Confining the season into one month would mean a drastically shortened season. Most schools were scheduled to have roughly 10 games in May in baseball and softball, though there would need to be time to practice and prepare for the season if it does indeed happen. Thursday’s meeting brought upon the ruling that the mandatory 10-day practice limit before starting a season would remain, though five of those days are now allowed to be at home, with the other five needing to be with the coach present. Given those realities, local coaches seem to be understanding of the decision to do away with a state tournament, given how little time there will be for a season in the first place.
“I don't know if that's viable,” Ray said of a state tournament. “In a tournament format, you're just talking about one or two games. If we were lucky to squeeze in a month, I think the kids would just want to play as many games as possible. I think it would be up to the leagues to try and come up with some sort of format where we could possibly have a league tournament at the very end. In baseball especially, you can squeeze in games and double headers and have a league tournament. That would give some sort of semblance. But you can't just have a tournament. I don't even know what that would look like.”
Conferences can still host their own tournaments, which could potentially give spring athletes some type of postseason experience. Of course, this is all dependent on Lamont’s ruling on the status of the rest of the school year. If schools stay closed, so will the fields and courts. Regardless, area teams are trying to stay prepared for anything, even as we approach a full month of postponed games from a season that was supposed to begin at the beginning of April.
“I'm honest with my players,” Mercado said. “I communicate with them every single day and we get on a Zoom call once a week to keep them updated. I tell them to just be ready for any opportunity, whether it's the high school season or something in the summer. We always talk adversity, and we have to find a way to overcome it. There's a lot of drill and a lot of stuff online that you can do to prepare you for baseball.”
Teams will be ready if the season does indeed begin in June, and while the outlook may seem bleak, the CIAC left the door open for a potential return on Thursday, and until that door is slammed shut, coaches and athletes won’t give up on the chance to get out and play before summer.
“I think we have to practice what we preach and maintain positive attitudes,” Ray said. “I think as long as they say there's a chance, you have hope. I think any athlete can tell you that. We have to think that way and be prepared for something bad to happen.
At this point we've been away from each other for so long, and if they let us get on the field, it would be better than nothing.”
The CIAC’s next Board of Control meeting is scheduled for May 7, which could result in another update on the fate of spring season.