After weeks of two steps forward, one step back, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference on Thursday released its plan for moving ahead with fall sports. The announcement followed multiple discussions about COVID-19-related safety for athletes with the CT State Department of Public Health.

Despite DPH concerns regarding athlete safety for football and indoor girls’ volleyball, CIAC has okayed activities for those two sports as well as for the other fall sports–cross country, swimming, soccer, and field hockey. The oversight board has also laid out a schedule for how training, practice, and an eventual return to play can occur.

Wilton High School athletes, however, will have to wait a bit longer to find out if they can return to play and what they’ll be able to do, as school officials will need to get Wilton Health Director Barry Bogle’s sign-off on any plans moving forward.

CIAC’s Plan

CIAC set Saturday, Aug. 29 as the first day activities can begin, with athletes restricted to low-risk conditioning and non-contact sport-specific skill work, in cohorts no larger than 10. This first phase will continue through Sept. 20, 2020.

CIAC chose Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, to start full team practices. The organization chose this date as one by which most of its member schools will have been in session for approximately two weeks–the “minimum” length of time the organization says is necessary for “enough COVID data …to determine whether the return to on-campus instruction will impact extracurricular offerings.”

Games and competition will move forward as of Oct. 1 for all sports, based on CIAC’s monitoring of risk for COVID spread, as established by the State Department of Education. CIAC will monitor COVID metrics daily and provide an update to member schools each Friday on the outlook for the following week.

In its statement, the CIAC acknowledged that “maintaining a level of in-person instruction is the highest priority,” but also important–and supported by research–is the “value of structured physical activity …especially when isolation experiences are increased.”

CIAC also supported moving forward with high school football and indoor volleyball, with fewer restrictions than the CT DPH and Gov. Ned Lamont prefer.

For volleyball, the organization said outdoor conditioning was feasible but outdoor competition was not due to a “lack of sturdy outdoor standards, inclement weather in the fall months, equity of resources to establish outdoor courts,” and the likelihood that players would opt to play indoors with club teams instead.

For football, CIAC argued that the DPH recommendation for 7 v. 7 play ran counter to the state’s own ReOpen CT Guidelines for non-interscholastic sports, and said that current COVID metrics support playing 11 v. 11 full-contact football.

The current plan announced Thursday reduces cohort sizes from 15 to 10 athletes, as recommended by the DPH.

At a press conference Thursday morning, CIAC’s executive director Glen Lungarini said current metrics support play.

“We think it’s safe, we think it’s logical, we think it allows for progression,” Lungarini said, according to published press reports. “We think it addresses the social, emotional and mental needs of our kids, as well as their desire to compete, and give direct information to our superintendents and our boards that they need to proceed and make the decision that’s best for them.”

Wilton’s Plan

Wilton High School’s athletic director, Chris McDougal, submitted restart plans for team sports to Wilton’s health director, Barry Bogle, who according to Superintendent Kevin Smith, still had some questions that require follow-up. As a result, Wilton teams do not have the go-ahead to start conditioning along with the rest of the state.

For now, WHS team coaches have communicated to their players that conditioning will start on Sept. 8. But Smith said McDougal is trying to meet with Bogle today, Friday, Aug. 28, to provide any answers and information in order to get preseason conditioning started sooner.

“Once we get the all-clear from Barry Bogle after he’s gone through our plans and Chris has made the modifications he needs, we’re hoping to begin our preseason conditioning activities for all fall sports per the CIAC and DPH,” he said. “We’re doing our best to work as quickly as possible to get conditioning up as soon as possible, hopefully before Sept. 8.”

Smith added that some of Bogle’s questions “seem to go beyond conditioning” so he hopes to get preseason activities started quickly and address the other issues accordingly.

McDougal gave a nod to a community eager to see sports get underway. “We have 523 kids ready to go out in the field. So we’re just looking forward to this. I’m going to work with Barry hopefully as early as [Friday] as possible and get these things ironed out.”