Through each update given by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference in regard to the fate of high school sports, the prevailing theme with every new detail is the fluidity of its planning.
With the outlook of the coronavirus outbreak throughout the country seemingly evolving on a daily basis, the CIAC has no choice but to remain flexible. It tried its best to do just that in the spring, when it was the last state in the country to cancel spring sports, holding out hope it would salvage some sense of a season after being one of the first to cancel the remainder of winter sports. Now, as the fall season approaches, the CIAC shifted from its original plan to start the season on time to pushing it back two weeks, while also ending it earlier to decrease the number of games played and the number of miles traveled. Shortly after that updated plan was released, the CIAC’s football committee recommended that the season be pushed to the spring, a recommendation CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarinini said would be weighed and considered.
Then, just over 24 hours later, Lungarini and the CIAC announced that, at least for the time being, the plan to keep all fall sports, including football, starting in late September would remain in place.
As the CIAC continues to evaluate the health metrics in the state, coaches and student-athletes are preparing for a season with an outlook that continues to change drastically, with potential start dates for the season ranging from six weeks to six months from now.
“I feel like there's some excitement now, but I think all along the CIAC has been clear using the term 'fluid,'” Bristol Central football head coach Jeff Papazian said. “So I know the kids are excited and we'll keep preparing as we have been all along, but understand the final decision, whether it's the one that came [Wednesday] or is still to come, it's completely out of our hands.”
Cautious optimism seems to be the mantra throughout the local area after Wednesday’s announcement from the CIAC. For now, fall sports will happen in the fall, but a number of student-athletes preparing for fall sports already lost sports over the spring and summer, and they continue to hold out hope that the coming autumn will finally be when they’re able to take the field again.
“I was excited,” Newington girls soccer’s All-New England senior Olivia Mullings said of Wednesday’s news. “Of course I want to see a normal season, or as normal as it can actually be. I was excited, but I just hope it doesn't get canceled in the middle of it. Everything is changing really fast all the time. There's no definite or positive answer to having a season in the fall, and that's really scary. I want to have a full season and a full last year, as I'm sure all seniors do. I want to finish off strong, but I don't know if I'll be able to get that opportunity.”
Even Wednesday’s announcement quickly came with new developments, which revealed that the State Department of Public Health recommended higher risk sports like football and girls volleyball be pushed to the spring, according to a GameTimeCT report. The consistent shifts have left coaches and players to simply prepare for change whenever it comes, which they’ve had to do since winter sports were canceled on March 10.
“It's been extremely tough, especially in the beginning in March,” Mullings said. “We didn't know if we were preparing for a season. It was hard to get the right mindset and be positive that we're going to have a season and to prepare for it as best we can. We're trying to make the best of it and listening to the guidelines and knowing that's going to help, and if there's something that will help prevent another outbreak, we're doing it. We're being pretty diligent with it.”
For Mullings, hope lies in the nature of her sport, as soccer isn’t one of the sports that were recommended be put off until 2021. Football and girls volleyball are considered high risks, and Lungarini stated that girls swimming has also been difficult to prepare for, but soccer and cross country seem to be more on track for a fall return, while the high-risk sports appear to have a cloudier future, even with the CIAC’s most recent ruling.
“That's one of the things I've been holding on to right now,” Mullings said. “If we still get to have our season, that would be really nice, and I'm hopeful about that.”
Emotions have changed consistently with each passing update, but the desire to return to play has remained a constant. The CIAC’s situation remains fluid, and while coaches and players must adjust accordingly, the willingness to do what is necessary to get back on the field or court is as rigid as ever.
“From the first time we got back until now, the kids have been tremendous with following whatever protocols we've put in place,” Papazian said. “Whether they agree or disagree doesn't matter at all. Whatever we say, they follow it 100 percent. People say a lot of things about teenagers and following rules, but our kids have been phenomenal with doing everything we ask of them. They understand if we're going to get to the point where we want to be, this is the way to do it. I can't say enough about the way they've approached these changes.
“The mindset now is whatever we have to do, wherever and whenever that might be, we're going to be prepared. That's the mindset of the kids too.”