Given the nature of the coronavirus pandemic and how it complicates the organization of a successful sports season, New Britain girls volleyball head coach Michelle Abraham doesn’t see the CIAC’s decision to proceed with a delayed fall season beginning Sept. 23 being the expected ultimate result.
After all, things have changed numerous times already since the CIAC’s initial plan to start the fall season on time was released last month.
“I wouldn’t' be surprised if things changed next week,” Abraham said. “We can open up with tryouts on the 27th, and anything can happen by then. They're really giving it some leeway to see what happens with this pandemic by then.”
The CIAC, understandably, continues to adjust its planning for the fall season as health metrics and suggestions from health professionals change throughout the state. But on Wednesday, just a day after the CIAC’s football committee submitted a recommendation that football be pushed back until spring, the CIAC released a statement that it would be proceeding with its plan of beginning all fall sports in late September. Shortly after that announcement came the news that Connecticut public health officials sent the CIAC its own recommendation, which stated that football and girls volleyball should be pushed back to the spring, with other fall sports waiting until two weeks after school opens to begin their seasons. The CIAC released another statement on Thursday to announce it would be reviewing that recommendation, but for now, all fall sports are set to begin tryouts in two weeks and their seasons in six weeks.
Abraham, who has coached at New Britain for decades and saw her boys volleyball team’s season canceled due to the virus, reacted to the news of the CIAC sticking to its plan with hesitation, especially as other states adopt new models for the season, like condensing all three seasons into a window from January to June.
“Honestly, that's what I was leaning towards,” Abraham said. “Let's prolong it a little bit and hope that there's a vaccine or have a clearer understanding of what happens once kids are all back in school. Once we start our season, and something goes down, it's a shutdown, and there's no resuming. The kids would lose out like they did in the winter when they were in the middle of the state tournament and nobody could finish.”
With so much still unknown about the coronavirus, some states have already taken action for the fall season, including Pennsylvania, which postponed its high school football season to January, and in Vermont, one of the top states in the country (along with Connecticut) in terms of Covid-19 containment, announced that its high school football season will be a 7-on-7 format, while volleyball will be played outdoors. Currently, Abraham’s Hurricanes are scheduled to play indoors in just over a month, and while there are already restrictions in place like no longer switching benches, Abraham still wouldn’t mind seeing the season put off longer if it meant lowering the risk of the season being canceled after already starting.
“I hope it's a condensed season, but if we play a team and someone on that team tests positive, we're shutting down because we were on the same floor as them,” Abraham said. “Nobody can control it. It's out of our hands, but I thought if we gave it a little more time we'd see. We didn't even go to the third phase of opening up the state and we're already sending the kids back to school. You see these other states that have gone back and are shutting down already. You see New York where they're gonna go January and February for one season, and March and April for another, and do it that way. That would have been a thought.”
Abraham’s team is eager to get back on the floor and prepare for the season, as are many other athletes who have missed out on high school sports for the past five months, but Abraham hopes the eagerness stays with her players, while the higher-ups at the CIAC proceed with caution when mapping out a safe season for girls volleyball and all other fall sports.
“The kids are texting me asking if they could have open gym,” Abraham said. “We can't do that with the numbers that would be in that confined area. We're not an indoor sport. They're resilient and they're eager to get out there and figure it out, but I don't think they understand that if something happens, we all shut down. It's not one school or sport. It's a big domino effect that I'm fearing.
“I think [pushing back the season] is more promising. I would definitely have been in favor of pushing it a little bit and waiting it out to see what happens. I'm worried we're going to get back and there is going to be cases, and the protocol is to stop.”
Abraham, and likely a number of coaches and parents, have their concerns for a fall season, but should the guidelines and the ultimate ruling dictate that a return to play is safe given certain precautions, Abraham will be back on the bench for another season at New Britain High.
“Our team will be our family, and as long as we're with our family and everything is fine, our side of the net should be OK,” Abraham said. “We're just trying to keep our kids as safe as possible as well as our coaching staff.
“We have to get back to some type of normalcy with our society. It's been a tough six months for our athletes and students in general.”