CIAC to pause football activity until Aug. 24, meet with Dept. of Health

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A day after receiving a recommendation from Connecticut’s Department of Health that schools should postpone football and volleyball to the spring, the CIAC announced Friday that it would be pausing all fall sports activities for the week so it could further evaluate whether it should play those sports in 2020.

The CIAC’s Board of Control’s officers met Thursday night and Friday morning to discuss the DPH’s recommendations, which came the day after the board voted 17-0 to continue with the original 2020 fall sports plan.

The CIAC said it will invite the DPH to discuss its recommendations over the coming week.

Until then, football, which was supposed to begin cohort training on Monday, and other sports activities will pause until Aug. 24, which was first reported by Hearst Connecticut Media on Friday afternoon.

“Based on DPH recommendations, the board took the action to pause all in-person interscholastic fall sport activity including conditioning programs which are already underway until Monday, August 24,” the CIAC said in a statement. “Coaches are encouraged to promote virtual safe contact and conditioning with their athletes during the pause so as to not lose the conditioning gains and socialization benefits made during the summer.”

Friday’s announcement capped a wild day and week over the status of high school sports during the coronavirus pandemic in Connecticut.

Fans, parents, coaches and players reacted with varying degrees of fury on social media, most of whom were exasperated with the conflicting announcements by the CIAC.

On Thursday, Connecticut House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin/Southington) and Deputy House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford) issued a bipartisan statement expressing their desire to play this season. Aresimowicz is the head coach of Berlin’s football team and Candelora the owner of the Connecticut Sportsplex in North Branford.

“Right now, I don’t think it’s fair to the kids at all,” Aresimowicz said after Friday’s delay. “One week they’re on, next they’re off. At some point we have to make a decision and move forward with it. I thought the CIAC was correct in its (initial) analysis. For the Department of Health to wait so long with a recommendation, one that was contrary to what they’d been telling us for weeks, doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Meanwhile, as the CIAC’s Board of Control met via Zoom call to review the DPH’s statement, both New Haven and Bridgeport pre-emptively announced they were effectively postponing their fall seasons based on the DPH’s recommendations.

The New Haven Department of Health first issued a statement saying it would be postponing all contact school sports, including football, indefinitely.

“We recognize that this decision will come as a disappointment to many parents and students,” New Haven Director of Health Maritza Bond said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the status of the pandemic and keep families updated as information becomes available.”

“It feels like the Grim Reaper came in and cut your neck,” Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle said.

The news was equally distressing to Wilbur Cross-New Haven coach John Acquavita, who laid the blame at the feet of the CIAC.

“At this point in time, although I am super devastated by that decision from the health director and mayor, it’s not their fault. I get what their job is,” he said. “The problem is the CIAC, that’s where the problem lies.”

Thirty minutes later, Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Michael J. Testani announced his district would be postponing football and volleyball — the two sports named in the DPH’s high-risk recommendation — for the 2020 season.

Testani said in an email that his recommendation was unanimously confirmed by the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Soccer and cross country would continue in Bridgeport as planned, he continued, “this decision is final.” Bridgeport is now considering whether its students can play a 7-on-7 version of football, a source said Friday.

“The thing that is crazy to me if I am a committee member, or those 17 people (who voted Wednesday on the CIAC Board of Control) who voted (to keep sports in the fall), I don’t know how you hear the news and not think about two big cities where (there is) a majority of minorities,” Acquavita said.

“How can they go to sleep knowing that the suburban kids will play sports, the city kids will not? … Move everything to 2021 and squeeze it in and help keep hope alive for these kids.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have pushed some of their fall seasons, including football, into the spring of 2021. Michigan became the latest with its announcement Friday. Utah became the first state to kick off its football season Thursday night, although did announce the postponement of one game after three players tested positive for coronavirus.

Vermont is the only New England state thus far to cancel an official football season, instead opting for a 7-on-7 option. Massachusetts is also considering pushing its 2020 football season into the spring, following advice from its Executive Office of Energy and Environmental affairs.

Despite see-sawing on its own position, the CIAC has maintained throughout the month that its 2020 fall sports plan, first announced on July 31, could change at a moment’s notice as new information became available.

The organization first heard from its individual fall sports committees ahead of a Board of Control meeting held Wednesday. In a 9-1 vote made Monday, the CIAC football committee said it was in favor of pushing its season to spring.

The CIAC Board of Control, which is made up of school administrators, school organization members, athletic directors and medical advisors ruled the other way in its highly anticipated announcement Wednesday afternoon. The decision was 17-0 between voting members of the board.

Following that ruling, CIAC said due to the continued low rates of transmission of COVID-19 in Connecticut, its advisors agreed that continuing the fall plan — including football — was safe for the state’s athletes.

CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said he had numerous discussions with the DPH before asking for its formal recommendation on football early Wednesday morning, but the Board of Control went ahead with its planned Wednesday vote when that recommendations wasn’t received. “Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out to get (the DPH’s) official position on Wednesday,” Lungarini said at the time.

Lungarini added the Board of Control had been seeking medical advice from a variety of doctors and organizations, including the Connecticut Department of Health, since putting together the 2020 fall plan in July.

Aresimowicz said the Connecticut DPH had previously given its blessing in the discussions shared with him by CIAC. “They were telling us our (COVID-19) numbers were great, they’re the best they’re going to get. Don’t delay the season,” he said. “I think this is our opportunity.”

In an interview Wednesday, Lungarini also pointed to a variety of summer programs — including baseball, basketball and hockey — that reported few cases of COVID-19 transmissions. Contact tracers, he said, reported to CIAC that those cases did not come from summer athletic competition.

The CIAC reiterated the point on Friday, saying Connecticut’s COVID health metrics “show students have been safely participating in athletics across the state throughout the summer.”

“While outside programs have had minimal issues thus far, CIAC believes its collaboration with health experts and relationships with its member schools has lead to a plan providing the best alignment with COVID mitigating strategies and creates the best opportunity for a safe and equitable fall sports season,” its statement said.

On Aug. 11, however, the New York State Amateur Hockey Association, a USA Hockey affiliate similar to the Connecticut Hockey Conference, published a letter by its board of directors declaring that “a number” of its East Section players have recently tested positive for COVID-19 after attending summer programs in New Hampshire and in Connecticut’s Champions of Cromwell and that it would be suspending all activities in order to contain the spread of the virus among its players.

“Players (and some coaches) who participated in these tournaments may now have contracted COVID unknowingly, and could also be passing the virus along to other players in their home rinks and to family members and friends,” the NYSAHA statement said.