Additional reporting on CIAC plan details by Lily Kepner.

The CIAC Board of Control approved the CIAC Winter Sports Plan at a meeting on Thursday, allowing winter high school sports in Connecticut to resume next week. That decision puts the ball in Wilton’s court to figure out whether Wilton High School‘s winter sports team will play and when they can start.

Back in November, state officials initially halted winter team sports activities due to an increase in community COVID-19 cases before the holidays, implementing a “pause” that would expire on Tuesday, Jan. 19. That’s when CIAC would have to reassess whether it was safe enough for athletes to resume activities.

In a Jan. 8 letter signed by acting commissioner Dr. Deidre S. Gifford, the CT Department of Public Health advised CIAC to adopt “a cautious approach to any restart of athletic activities,” but still okayed a Jan. 19 practice start for moderate and lower risk sports.

In the letter, the DPH said that interscholastic in-state competitions could begin after Feb. 1, 2021, for lower and moderate risk sports,if “community metrics continue an appropriate downward trend” in COVID-19 cases.

Thursday’s highly-anticipated decision stuck to DPH guidance, permitting CT high school sports teams to begin practicing on Jan. 19. CIAC had hoped to also begin games on Monday, Feb. 1, but the Sports Medicine Committee of the Connecticut State Medical Society (CSMS) reviewed the plan and advised CIAC to delay competition at least one additional week to Monday, Feb. 8, to monitor COVID case numbers.

However, individual schools can delay either of those start times further if a school district determines it’s necessary.

CIAC’s approved document matches the most recent guidance and sector rules from the CT-DPH and the CT Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). 

  • Moderate-risk sports–basketball, gymnastics, and ice hockey–and low-risk sports–boys swimming and diving–are allowed a maximum number of 12 games/meets, with a maximum number of two games/meets per week (although twice during the season teams will be permitted to schedule three games in one week).
  • Indoor track will be limited to practices only starting Jan. 19, and indoor/outdoor meets will be considered for March.
  • High-risk sports, which include wrestling, competitive dance, and competitive cheer, will only be allowed to condition in small groups and no-contact skill-building. Sideline cheer and exhibition dance are considered less risky and are allowed with mask-wearing and six-feet of social distance between participants.
  • Skiing is governed by the CT Interscholastic Ski League, which has pledged to follow CIAC and DPH guidance and schedules.

Further guidance on youth sports and extracurricular athletics will also be defined in the coming days.

Will Wilton High School’s Season Start On-Time, Delay, or Cancel?

Following the CIAC announcement on Thursday, GOOD Morning Wilton reached out to WHS athletic director, Chris McDougal to find out how the district would proceed.

Last August, once CIAC approved its plan for the fall 2020 sports season, McDougal had to prepare a district-specific plan detailing precautions and procedures for each sport and submit it for approval to Wilton Health Director Barry Bogle.

Before he would approve the plans, Bogle asked for some refinement and clarification. As a result, Wilton teams didn’t take to the fields and courts until more than a week after CIAC had said the season could start–to the frustration of some athletes and their families.

This season, there are already hints of similar frustrations about possible delays–with some parents calling, “Deja vu!” Even with CIAC’s go-ahead, Bogle still has to review every plan McDougal has compiled for each WHS winter sports team before play can actually start for Wilton Athletes–quite possibly pushing back the season’s start.

For many families, now a year into pandemic restrictions, the anger over kids sidelined or limited in what they can do is building under the surface. Some of those emotions were out in the open Thursday night on Facebook, as a handful of parents of athletes challenged First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice about rumors of a possible delay to Wilton’s season beyond when CIAC will kick things off–or worse, potentially no season at all.

According to one parent, families of basketball players “received an email from the coaching staff that the season is postponed with the possibility of being canceled.” Several basketball team families confirmed an email had been sent but wouldn’t identify the author.

Parents of athletes on other sports teams, including hockey, indoor track, and skiing, added they’d been told the same thing on their teams–that practices were delayed until Jan. 25 when the situation would be reassessed.

GOOD Morning Wilton contacted McDougal and basketball head coach Joel Geriak, but both men declined to comment on or clarify what was communicated to coaches and athletes or when practices will start.

Several parents argued that Wilton’s COVID case numbers don’t justify delaying athletics, especially compared with surrounding towns that WHS would meet in competition.

“We have heard that many surrounding towns have gotten approval from their towns and are moving forward. Where is the disconnect?!? What is the factual basis for us not to move forward as approved by the CIAC and the governor’s office?” wrote parent Karin Hyzy. “The facts around our total infections and public health record relative to other towns do not support a unilateral singular decision to either delay or oppose any winter sports play!”

Vanderslice confirmed that the tight turnaround after CIAC’s green light Thursday and only five days until the practices could start made it difficult for Bogle to review and approve what McDougal submitted in time for a Jan. 19 start.

“The start has been delayed to allow our health director to review the plans submitted by the schools. Just as happened with fall sports, he has to review every plan,” Vanderslice said, adding, “It takes time.”

She said she’d update the community on Friday after speaking with Bogle.

CIAC Plan Details

Masks

In a change from fall sports, the CT DPH will require all participants, coaches, officials and students to wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth at all times, including during active play. The DPH said they believe this is a necessary measure to reduce the spread, citing the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) position that face coverings have been “well-tolerated” in exercise for young players and effectively reduce the spread of COVID-19. CT DPH also advised a mask be worn on sidelines, in locker rooms and while traveling.

The CIAC plan also outlined mask breaks and defined protocols for how COVID-positive athletes would return to play once they recovered.

Red Alert Towns 

The plan emphasizes that it is “fluid” in nature, and subject to change in accordance with health guidance and local COVID-19 data. It aligns with the color-coded system used by the state to track the two-week rolling average number of cases per 100,000 people.

“In consideration of the State Department of Public Health’s Average Daily Rate of COVID-19 Cases Among Persons Living in Community Settings per 100,000 Population By Town, schools located in towns color-coded as “grey”, “yellow”, or “orange” may proceed with offering winter interscholastic sports as recommended in this guidance. The CIAC, in consultation with the CSMS Sports Medicine Committee, strongly encourages schools located in towns color-coded as “red” to review the COVID climate in that district, with that district’s school doctor and local DPH, in consideration of the appropriateness to continue with game competitions,” the document reads (emphasis added).

It adds that the school principal or designate in towns that are “red” are responsible for notifying the league commissioner and CIAC whether they choose to continue competitions or not.

Sports Specific Points 

  • League Play
    • No sports are permitted to have home or away games with teams outside of CIAC or teams from out-of-state.
    • Basketball and indoor track, if permitted to have contests in March, must schedule them within their league, which the recommendation says should be divided based on geography.
    • Gymnastics and boys’ swim are advised to schedule within leagues “as possible,” but any meets with teams in a different league must happen virtually.
    • Ice hockey is also advised to schedule within leagues as possible, but that if necessary to schedule outside of leagues, “distance between schools should be the number one scheduling priority.”
    • The low- to moderate-risk sports’ initial delay will also be made up for by a “postseason experience” March 15-28, which the CIAC Board said, “will be championships at the league level.”
    • Individual schools can delay any start times if a school district determines it’s necessary.
  • Basketball
    • All individuals will be required to maintain six feet of social distance or greater off the court at all times.
    • The officials’ table should be limited to only essential personnel, including home team scorer and timer, who will also be distanced.
    • Electronic whistles are permitted.
    • State associations are advised to tell their players to be cautious when removing their mouthguard when on the sidelines or bench, and use hand sanitizer before and after.
  • Ice hockey
    • Social distance must be maintained at all times off the ice.
    • Everything should be limited to essential personnel.
    • Electronic whistles are permitted.
    • State associations are advised to tell their players to be cautious when removing their mouthguard when on the sidelines or bench, and use hand sanitizer before and after.
  • Gymnastics
    • It is recommended that a cohort of 10 people be kept the same for the season, and that a record be kept of all team members present at activities.
    • The guidance gives coaches the job of enforcing social distancing at all times.
    • Workouts should be held in “pods” with groups of 5-10 athletes.
    • Common chalk bowls, hydration stations and benches will not be used.
    • The CIAC also recommends that virtual or video meets happen as often as possible.
  • Indoor Track
    • Indoor/outdoor meets will be considered “no earlier than March” for indoor tracks, and teams will be limited to practices before then.
    • Workouts should happen in a “pod” of the same students to limit exposure
    • Wellness checks should happen each practice and competition.
    • There will be no coaching boxes in order to maintain social distancing.
  • Swimming
    • No more than two teams will be allowed to compete in the same pool at the same team
    • Virtual meets are recommended.
    • CIAC recommends not allowing any spectators.
  • Wrestling
    • As a high-risk sport, cannot do anything past small group conditioning and non-contact skill building for the rest of the season.
    • However, wrestlers are permitted to work out in cohorts of four individuals with similar weights.