CHESHIRE – In what felt like a looming inevitability, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference announced on Tuesday afternoon that all spring sports would be canceled, bringing an end to the 2020 season before it ever began.
The CIAC had been holding out hope for weeks, holding off canceling the season entirely until Governor Ned Lamont announced Tuesday morning that schools in Connecticut would remain closed for the rest of the academic year, serving as the final blow to a potential spring sports campaign, the latest sporting casualty as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The CIAC’s consideration for any spring sport experience has always been contingent on the reopening of schools for in-person instruction,” Tuesday’s announcement read. “This morning, Governor Lamont ordered the cancellation of in-school classes for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Therefore, there will not be a 2020 CIAC spring sports season.”
For coaches in the local area, Tuesday’s announcement was an expected one, as the season was initially postponed, then confined to the month of June if it ever began. State championship competition had already been canceled, but now spring student-athletes won’t take the field or the court in any form this year.
“You get a different feeling for sure,” Bristol Central baseball coach Bunty Ray said about reading Tuesday’s announcement. “I think we all knew it was coming, but when you finally hear it, I said that to someone recently how you're in a situation where when someone breaks the news and it actually happens to you, you have a feeling of helplessness. You can't control what's going on.”
The same reaction could be found in New Britain, where Hurricanes softball coach Joel Simmone had to break the news to his team after learning that they wouldn’t be able to practice or play together this season.
“I didn't believe it and I wouldn't accept it,” Simmone said. “But when I saw it this morning...now I accepted it. But I don't accept anything until I see it in black and white, but there it was.”
For Simmone, the news was especially tough to break to his three seniors, including star pitcher Josleen Rivera, a staple in the program for the past three seasons.
“She wrote a beautiful farewell and thank you, and it was great,” Simmone said. “But they were crying. They broke down reading speeches that they would have said on senior night. It's just sad. It's really, really sad.”
Local coaches also are left to struggle with the task of consoling and supporting their student-athletes who have just lost a season in the sun while also dealing with their own losses. Simmone was left to reassure his devastated seniors, but also is forced to deal with the reality that a staple of his spring has also been taken away.
“This is the first time I have not coached a spring sport at New Britain since 1986,” Simmone said. “I started my first year with freshman baseball in 1987. So I'm lost. The positive is all my yard work is done, I'm doing good with my diet and spending time with my family. But it's just sad.”
The news was crushing to local spring sports teams, but through the disappointment and sadness came the realization that the decision made by Lamont and then the CIAC was a necessary one.
“As the adult, and as the adults making decisions, we can say that this was the right decision,” Ray said. “But we have to figure out a way to sell that to our kids to make sure they're positive moving forward and continue to work hard. They put in a lot of work this offseason and they're kind of in limbo now.”
After mourning the loss of the spring season, attention turned toward the limbo of summer, where events like the Little League World Series and the New England Collegiate Baseball League have already been cancelled. American Legion baseball has yet to be officially called off, but is certainly in jeopardy, putting spring athletes at risk of losing any type of live games until fall or next spring.
“I think that’s starting to hit us a little more,” Ray said. “Now that the season is over, which we kind of knew, we were hanging on, but to go further into the summer, now the wheels start spinning on how we can help our kids get better for next year, and how we can get some kids looked at for schools. We're just going to have to see how creative we can get and try to get something for these kids to keep them engaged.”
Ray hopes his players understand the necessity of the CIAC’s decision, and will now turn his focus toward keeping those student-athletes focused on moving forward. As high school activities continue to be lost, Ray hopes his players can see that at some point, those activities will return.
“I think that's the biggest fear right now,” Ray said. “Physically is one thing, but mentally, you just keep taking away and taking away, and at some point you hope the young kids can understand there is some light at the end of the tunnel.”
That light won’t be reached by the end of spring, a reality that may have seemed unfathomable when the CIAC canceled winter state tournaments back in early March. But Tuesday’s announcement means that high school sports in Connecticut will be gone for at least six months when school is scheduled to return in September, though even that can change in the coming months.
“I can't even believe what's going on,” Simmone said. “I wake up in the morning and wonder if I dreamed this. I just can't believe it.”