Friday morning, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) released its long-awaited guidance for fall school sports in Connecticut as the state continues to respond to the COVID-19 health crisis. The document is subject to change as health data does, but aligns with Wilton High School Athletic Director Chris McDougal‘s vision that sports, in some capacity, will be possible.
“Throughout this challenging time, CIAC has maintained that when the time is right, Connecticut will play again,” the guidelines read. “The COVID health metrics in Connecticut, and the playing of youth sports in our state since June 20, support that a return to in-person instruction, education-based interscholastic athletics, and other co-curricular activities that are critical to the cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and mental health of our students.”
However, the “fluid” nature of the document will change as health data does, making Wilton’s current rise in cases potentially more severe. level. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice reiterated the role each Wiltonian has in making this possible in her Thursday night update, writing, “Decisions about learning and sports will be based on residents’ behavior over the next several weeks. It is that simple.”
The dates for sports to begin remain the same as originally scheduled; however, the guidelines build in three weeks of conditioning time for each sport in order to “provide equitable conditioning time for all schools across Connecticut and ensure a safe return to sport activity for all student-athletes.”
Conditioning, Cohorts, and Contact
The report places a heavy emphasis on conditioning and the need for making sure kids are physically ready to resume fall sports. The conditioning requirement also mandates that cohorts be maintained by dividing kids into groups 15 students or less starting Monday, Aug. 3, but those cohorts currently held at 10 are encouraged to stay that way.
For Field Hockey, Soccer and Volleyball, the conditioning demands are very specific; for the first week, athletes will have 1-hour practices split between conditioning and non-contact, socially distant skill work. The following week, the time will be extended to 90 minutes. The third week will have 45 minutes of conditioning and 75 minutes of skill work in small groups. In Volleyball, “skill work should still be conducted in a manner that reflects a progression to full speed play.” In all three of the sports, a full team scrimmage can happen by Sept. 18. Starting Sept. 24, games can be played and practices can be held for 2-hours.
For Football, teams can use Aug. 17, 18, and 19 to hold organized team activities or OTA days where coaches can review material, distribute equipment, and review safety precautions–even virtually. Conditioning can happen that week as well. Football will have the same progression of practice time from one hour to 90-minutes split evenly between conditioning and non-contact, socially distant skill work from Aug 24-29 and Aug 31-Sept. 5; but starting Sept. 7, practices will be extended to two hours and 30-minutes during which contact is permitted to “demonstrate and teach tackling and blocking progressions.” Full contact scrimmages can occur as of Sept. 18; however, “full contact should be limited to the time necessary to teach appropriate tackling and skill-specific technique” and may not last longer than 10 minutes per day per athlete.
In order to mitigate the spread of the virus and limit transportation, all contests are going to be scheduled regionally. All competitions will be conducted in-state.
The guidelines are general, and over the next few weeks, the CIAC will make more specific recommendations for each sport under specific sport committees. For the purposes of explanation, the guidelines used Volleyball as the example, describing matches in which teams will not switch sides after each set or meet in locker rooms at halftime. Moreover, since the Phase 2 requirements for summer sports are divided sports into low, moderate, and high risk, some high-contact sports, like Football, may require more restrictions.
Cross Country, Field Hockey, Soccer, Swimming, and Volleyball will begin practicing in cohorts of 15 or fewer athletes as planned on Aug. 27, but Football will start Aug. 17. In three weeks (Sept. 11), the sports will transition to full team practice and full contact. The scrimmage dates for field hockey, football, soccer, and volleyball are Sept. 18, followed by every sport having its first contest on Sept. 24. Cross Country, Field Hockey, Soccer, Swimming, and Volleyball will have a season maximum of 12 games with two games or less scheduled per week, while football will only have a maximum of six games for the season and only one game per week.
Competitions shall be held between the 10 closest schools only. When athletes are not in practice or games, the minimum distancing of six feet should be maintained between players. Coaches should consider using tape to illustrate the distances.
Moreover, the guidelines say that spectators are allowed but only if facilities and teams have the capacity to make sure fans stay in “well-marked areas” that enforce social distancing and limit capacity, as well as the ability to increase cleaning.
Cleaning and Safety
Additional guidelines were set in regards to cleaning:
- Increase cleaning of all athletic facilities, provide hand sanitizer and prevent groups from gathering near entrances or exits
- Schools will be required to enforce social distancing during modes of transportation. This was a concern Wilton’s athetic director McDougal mentioned, and said the district may have to provide–and pay for–more buses.
- “Vulnerable individuals” are encouraged not to participate in sports.
- Players and coaches must self-screen for “observable illnesses” and have a temperature below 100 degrees F to play. A coach or activity supervisor is responsible for enforcing this restriction and for keeping records. Any person attending a sporting event must self-screen on their own.
- Students must bring their own water. No athletic towels, shoes, or clothes can be shared. Students are responsible for cleaning their own equipment and transporting it to and from school.
- Students should plan to “arrive at practice and games prepared to participate without the need to use a locker room, to the extent possible.” Locker rooms should be cleaned according to CDC guidelines, and used as little as possible. The guidelines added that ventilation in the locker rooms is essential for safety. Greater social distance of 12 feet should be maintained. A designated bathroom or locker room will be set aside for visiting teams, though they will be encouraged to change before.
- Athletic Training rooms will be allowed to be set up, with increased cleaning protocols.
- The validity of physical exams, which are necessary for athletic play, will be extended from 13 months to 15 months for fall sports alone due to the backlog of medical appointments at most medical offices.
The topic of face coverings was a major area of discussion. The CIAC recognized that face masks help prevent the spread of COVID-19; however, they also recognized that younger players could struggle to wear them during active play. Therefore, the CIAC recommends that disposable face covers be worn “when not engaging in vigorous activity, such as when sitting on the bench, during chalk talk, interacting with an athletic trainer, etc.”
They do not have to be worn in intense workouts or with swimming or distance running.
Coaches will be required to wear face coverings. Instead of using whistles, the guidelines suggest they could use an air horn.
Plastic shields may be worn or considered, but must be approved.
Schools are also encouraged to form a COVID-19 advisory committee to thoroughly review and discuss each athletic season before it starts, and to address concerns as they come up. The committee would also be responsible for communicating with school leadership and making sure the best practices for COVID-19 are enforced.
If an athlete tests positive for COVID-19, a system should be in place where school and district administrators and the local Director of Public Health would be notified.
The guidelines also include a review of hygiene practices and encourage athletes to wash their hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, often and after coming in contact high-touch surfaces, avoid touching their faces, and showering and washing equipment as soon as they return home from games or practice. Moreover, the guidance specifies that “appropriate clothing/shoes should always be worn to minimize sweat from transmitting onto equipment/surfaces.”
In terms of Wilton, McDougal is currently at work creating a plan for each sport and submitting it to Wilton’s health director, Barry Bogle, for approval.