The 2020 WHS varsity volleyball team photo: Kim Savvaides

Wilton High School athletes will have a full fall sports season, following the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference‘s (CIAC) release on Thursday, Aug. 12, of its COVID-19 guidance. The guidelines outline some restrictions by sport as well as different protocols for students exposed to COVID-19 based on an athlete’s vaccination status.

Nevertheless, the fall 2021 season will be much different than the year before, something WHS athletic director Chris McDougal says makes him very happy.

“I’m ecstatic. The kids have been wanting to play for over a year without things hanging over their head. Yes, we got to play in the spring. We got to play a shorter season in the fall and a shorter season in the winter too. But I’m just ecstatic to get all the sports back, plus trying to get back to normal,” he said.

CIAC Guidance Highlights

The CIAC emphasizes that its plan is “fluid” and always being evaluated based on the most recent guidance from the CT Department of Public Health (CT-DPH). The organization’s document reiterated its priority of maintaining a “safe level of in-person instruction” while also articulating the importance of physical activity as part of the instructional experience.

“While prioritizing considerations that will sustain conditions for in-person learning, the CIAC strongly affirms that the value of structured physical activity is widely supported in research, especially in maintaining one’s physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and mental health. As such, the CIAC will provide the best sport experiences possible to its member schools,” it stated.

The fall sports — football (with “frequent, direct face-to-face contact”); field hockey, soccer and volleyball (with “intermittent direct contact”); cross country (with “infrequent direct contact”); and golf and swimming (with “no direct contact) — will start on time, and play full regular seasons, including CIAC state championship post-season play.

Vaccines:  Throughout the document, the CIAC reiterated its commitment and support to vaccination against COVID-19 for all student and coach participants, as well as officials and families.

Vaccination of all eligible athletes, coaches, and officials is currently the most important mitigation strategy we have available for preventing COVID-19 outbreaks on youth sports teams, and in the surrounding communities that support them. The more athletes, coaches, officials, and supporting family members who are vaccinated, the more likely interscholastic and other youth sports teams will be able to avoid repeated quarantines and testing of participants, to keep practicing and playing throughout the scheduled season, and to get back to a “new normal” for youth sports in our state.”

Notably, the CIAC guidelines highlight “one major perk” for anyone vaccinated who is exposed to someone with COVID-19: they won’t need to quarantine or test, as long as they remain asymptomatic.

Masks: In alignment with the CT State Department of Education (CT-SDE) and the CT-DPH, CIAC policy follows the current Executive Order mandating masks for everyone indoors. Coaches, officials and spectators must mask at all times when indoors, but they are not required to do so outdoors.

  • Volleyball:  All volleyball players, regardless of vaccination status, will wear masks at all times while they are indoors, including competition, play, practice and training. Masks may be removed when athletes are outdoors.
  • Swimming:  Swimmers must wear masks on the pool deck during competition and practice when indoors. They do not need to wear masks when they’re in the water, or when outdoors.
  • Cross Country, Field Hockey, Football, Golf and Soccer:  Regardless of vaccination status, athletes are not required to wear masks during outdoor activities, practice or competition. Masks must be worn anytime athletes are indoors (e.g. locker rooms, indoor practice, weight rooms, etc.).
  • Sideline/Exhibition Cheerleading and Dance: Athletes may remove masks indoors when performing stunts but otherwise masks must be worn anytime they are indoors. Masks are not required outside at any point, including during sideline cheers, stunts or halftime performances.

Quarantine, Contacts and Isolation:  Vaccinated students/staff who come into close contact with a positive COVID-19 case will not have to quarantine if they are asymptomatic and wear a mask until receiving a negative test (3-5 days after contact) or 14 days without a test.

Unvaccinated asymptomatic students who have close contact with someone COVID-19 positive must quarantine for 10-14 days, depending on follow-up testing.

The CIAC recommends weekly testing for unvaccinated students, coaches and officials.

The document outlines a specific protocol for returning to play after COVID-19 infection.

Fans and Spectators: The CIAC guidelines note that the organization supports plans established by individual school districts regarding the presence of adults on school campuses, and suggests that plans should align with sector rules established by the CT Department of Economic and Community Development (CT-DECD).

For detailed guidelines, view the CIAC document at the end of the article.

WHS Athletics and COVID-19

McDougal wasn’t surprised by the guidelines issued Thursday, including those for volleyball and swimming mask-wearing.

“I kind of expected it. They’re always ones to follow the CDC and they have their sports medicine committee that they go through things. So they have all the data they needed from those past spring and winter sports and last fall,” he said.

He’s especially pleased that football will have a full season after it was postponed to the spring and shortened with major alterations.

“Football didn’t really have a season last year — they had the 7-on-7, but that was about it. As long as they’re playing,” he said, adding, “I feel bad for volleyball, but you know, it’s what we have to do to keep everybody safe.”

McDougal is planning to have spectators, even for volleyball, although there will be social distancing.

“The new standard is 3 feet apart, which is pretty easy to do in our bleachers. And for volleyball they can, it needs to be spread out. Three feet is pretty simple.”

However, for swimming, he will defer to the policy set by the Wilton Family YMCA, where the WHS team practices and competes. “We will happily do that, whatever their rules are.”

While McDougal said the school cannot mandate that students or coaches get vaccinated, he is “strongly encouraging” everyone to do so.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m definitely strongly encouraging it, just for the mere fact that you won’t have to quarantine and you won’t be as sick,” he said.

With student registration to participate in fall sports currently underway, McDougal reports that there are already 510 people registered to play on teams this fall, including for the addition of golf to the fall season.

Football has already started conditioning practices and holding team meetings, and the team will hold its first official practice on Monday, Aug. 16 as well. Golf will also begin practicing on Monday, while all other teams begin on Thursday, Aug. 26.

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