The Berlin football team was back together this week, practicing as a group on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday with the CIAC’s reopening guidelines allowing outdoor workouts in small groups as the state slowly attempts a return to normalcy amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Head coach Joe Aresimowicz and the Redcoats were relieved to be back on the gridiron to prepare for a 2020 season that is currently slated to begin on schedule, but as the team begins its quest for another state tournament berth, even Aresimowicz does so with the realization that the team’s preparations could result in disappointment if the trend of coronavirus cases in Connecticut head back in the wrong direction.
“I think the kids were excited to be back,” Aresimowicz said. “For the coaches, it's sort of bittersweet. Here we are preparing to get ready, but when you look at other states, I guess there's a sense of nerves amongst the coaching staff, if this is actually for real.”
Those other states include New Mexico, which already moved football to spring, Arizona, which delayed its high school season, and Texas, which seems bound to postpone its season as well. The CIAC and teams like Berlin are still holding out hope that the 2020 season will start on time, and are preparing as such, but Aresimowicz is also aware of the reality that what will dictate the season is out of the Redcoats’ control.
“Right now, in the state of Connecticut, we've had good results and our numbers are holding solid,” Aresimowicz said. “As long as we're able to maintain social distancing and masking, and people are taking it seriously, I think we'll be OK and we'll be able to get this done. But then you're always fearful of what the schools are going to do. Are they going to come back to a normal schedule, or will they have a staggered schedule? Are we going to have access to the kids every day? Unlike other sports, and I'm not saying the time and dedication isn't absolutely necessary, but football is very well scripted out. Mondays for us, we're introducing the plan for Friday night, then Tuesday and Wednesday are offensive and defensive days, and Thursdays we have a review and prepare for Friday night. If now we're limited on the time we have with the kids where we have to do every other day or something like that, it does change it. So I'm hopeful, but we're also preparing. We just want to do what's right with the kids.”
The schedules for the 2020 season have already been released, with Berlin opening its season on Sept. 11 against Tolland, but should the state struggle to contain COVID and restrictions need to be put in place, Aresimowicz believes there could be alternative options to salvage the football season.
“We're in the CCC, and the majority of the teams we play our only one or two towns away from us,” Aresimowicz said. “There's something to be said for that. We've seen a lot less exposure in northeast Connecticut than southwest Connecticut, there were a lot more cases there. So having the ability to potentially do a regional type schedule is something we have to consider. We could also have kids drive themselves to the home games, and quite honestly we can have them dropped off at away games. We could be very careful of who we allow to dress for the varsity games. I think we have a lot more options than the typical college team. It's a little bit of a different situation.”
College teams like Fordham have already canceled the first two games of its football season, and multiple collegiate conferences have announced they will be limiting their seasons to conference competition only. Those limitations could turn into complete cancellations, but while uncertainty continues to swirl around football as a whole, Berlin’s first week of practices still brought along a sense of comfort, one the team hopes will last.
“I think we're cautiously optimistic,” Aresimowicz said. “I've been talking to the athletic director and getting updates from the CIAC, so I'm cautiously optimistic that we'll get there and be able to play this season. The last thing we want is for or seniors to miss their last year of football, but we need to balance their safety.”
Aresimowicz and his coaching staff are keeping things open with the Redcoats, embracing being back on the field together while also dealing with the reality that things could change rapidly, but for now, it’s business as usual at Sage Park.
“We opened it right up to discussion,” Aresimowicz said. “We're keeping them updated...we told them we'd let them know if there are any other changes. We're teaching them life lessons, and this is potentially a bittersweet life lesson. But we're preparing full steam moving forward. As of today we have a football season, and if things change we'll deal with that as they come. But we're all in it together.”