Though they will have to go without team huddles or end-of-game high fives, kids itching to fill their time this summer will have the opportunity to play youth sports once again starting Wednesday, June 17, when the State enters Phase 2 of re-opening.
Youth sports will follow state-mandated restrictions and safety measures, as detailed in the CT-Reopen guidelines. The guidelines split sports into three different categories based on perceived risk, and define the rules based on these groups:
- Higher Risk: sports with close, persistent contact between players, little to no protective barriers and a high likelihood that droplets could be transmitted from player to player (ie. wrestling, football, basketball, lacrosse, boxing, competitive cheer, dance, rugby, roller derby, water polo, martial arts, and 7-on-7 football)
- Moderate Risk: sports with close, persistent contact BUT with protective gear that could reduce the risk of respiratory droplet transmission; or close contact that is not sustained for long periods; or group sports; or sports involving equipment that can’t be cleaned between each player (ie. volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, tennis, field hockey, swimming relays, pole vault, long jump, high jump, crew with more than one rower in a shell, synchronized swimming, softball, and baseball)
- Lower Risk: sports that can be held with social distancing; or no shared equipment; or ability to clean equipment between players (ie. individual running competitions, throwing events, individual swimming, sideline cheer, weightlifting, cross country, single sculling, running with staggered starts, diving, fencing, and ice skating).
Participants in Higher Risk sports are limited to individual or group training and controlled practices for Phase 2. The same holds true for athletes in the Low to Moderate Risk categories, but they are also permitted to take part in scrimmages, games, matches, or meets. Starting July 6 the low to moderate risk group sports can also hold tournaments. All three groups are allowed to operate camps as defined by Executive Order No. 7PP.
For youth sports that do commence, the restrictions require facilities and organizations to self-certify on the DECD website before opening. The report also emphasizes that these rules are the minimum requirement, and encourages teams, leagues, and businesses to take additional measures if compelled to do so.
Youth Sports Rules
According to the guidelines, the rules place “the most important consideration” on the health and safety of athletes, coaches, employees, officials, parents, and customers.
- Daily symptom screening for any participants or staff (self-assessed)
- Limiting indoor sporting events to 50% capacity or 25 people (the smaller of the two) which can only be exceeded to include one guardian per athlete
- Limiting outdoor sporting events to two teams, officials, and a limited amount of family
- Signage to indicate new policies as well as the state’s hotline, 211, for customers to report violations, as well as physical or visual cues (such as tape) indicating people stay 6 feet apart when at the pool
- Going over all rules and cleaning procedures with employees (and subcontractors if applicable); disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and shared equipment on a daily basis at minimum, more depending on usage (ie. sports equipment such as balls, starting blocks, structures for climbing or playing, kickboards and diving boards)
- Sharing of personal and/or items that go on the face–such as goggles, caps, nose clips or snorkels–is prohibited
- Limiting hours of practice or game to minimize exposure
- Concession stands can open following restaurant reopening guidelines
- Swim lessons allowed only if they do not require contact between instructor and student, for which there must be at least six feet between students and instructors.
- Regarding travel, it is strongly suggested that individuals travel alone or with only people from their house if possible, and to wear a mask or face covering when not actively participating in the sport and when walking to and from the venue
- No post-sport snacks, no sharing of water bottles (participants must bring their own), and limit all other shared equipment (and clean and disinfect all that is share frequently). Water fountains should only be used for filling water bottles
- Practices and games should be staggered at least 15 minutes and 30 minutes before, respectively, to limit the amount of people coming in contact with each other and allow for safe cleaning of surfaces, such as benches in the dugout and door handles if applicable
- Game balls should be disinfected before and after every clinic, practice, and game
- No huddles, fist bumps, handshakes, slaps, etc.
- Parent seating areas are allowed to be open if six feet for social distancing can be maintained and if seats can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each use; spectators must maintain social distancing in common areas and staff should monitor; and employees must continue to remind participants of social distancing rules through occasional announcements **Note: In Wilton, seating will NOT be open, see Wilton-specific rules below for more info**
- Employees and spectators must wear face masks or cloth covering over their entire nose and mouth unless it would interfere with their health because of medical conditions; employees must wear gloves and eye protection when utilizing cleaning chemicals; employers must provide PPE; and athletes do NOT need to wear a face mask when actively playing a sport, but are required to wear a face mask at all other times
- For pools, as a wet face mask could make it difficult to breathe, they should be worn at all times except when swimming or showering or if medical conditions make wearing a mask dangerous
- Clean all shared equipment, shared spaces, or touched items frequently and often, and make hand sanitizer and disinfectant readily available.
Sporting locations allowed to open under these requirements include pools, pickleball and paddle tennis, tennis (must adhere to USTA guidelines), squash/racquetball (only 1 vs 1), basketball courts for group activities, and pools (when the number of people/households can safely fit into the pool while maintaining social distancing of six feet, as well as having walking paths that are at least three feet wide).
The report also acknowledges that the state cannot fully mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19, and thus encourages people with pre-existing conditions or above the age of 65 to stay home. Individual towns will make decisions based on state requirements, but as the state guidelines emphasize, these rules are the bare minimum, and municipalities may take additional measures.
Wilton Specific Actions
In addition to state guidelines, the town must approve all plans and may adopt measures that go above and beyond the state requirements.
In her nightly announcement on Monday, June 8, First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice wrote that being able to provide camp was a priority for town officials, in order to help parents go back to work, though she reminded town residents that camps must self-certify before reopening. Reopening the playing fields was also listed as a priority in the update. Vanderslice also announced in her June 5 update that the Parks and Recreation Department will offer tennis lessons in line with USTA guidelines, at the Middlebrook School tennis courts.
Earlier this week, Wilton’s Parks and Recreation Department officially announced that it will be holding Camp Looper and Cool Tots. The camps will kick off June 22 and continue for eight consecutive weeks.
At its meeting (held over conference call) this past Wednesday night, the Parks and Recreation Commission discussed what youth sports in Wilton would look like. During the meeting, Steve Pierce, the director of the Parks & Rec department, explained the plan his team has put in place and what issues they’re facing:
- Basketball and football–both contact sports categorized by the state as High Risk–can start training, but cannot conduct full activity, including games, until July 6. To support this rule, all town basketball courts are currently closed.
- Town-run camp will be limited to eight kids and two counselors per room. individual groups will not be allowed to play games (e.g. kickball) with any other group during camp, but they are waiting on clarification to see if this applies outside of camp.
- Questions remain on what the rules are for who can attend games or play, which the first selectwoman is currently trying to find out.
- Fall youth sports are allowed to begin registering participants for fall activities. Pierce said he believes youth football and field hockey are among the groups that have already started registration.
- According to Pierce, Parks and Rec does not have enough staffing to disinfect benches, bleachers, dugouts, permanent seating or other shared equipment after each use at every facility. As a result, so they will restrict public use or not open certain amenities to the public even though state guidelines allow it. (For example, dugout seating will be taped off and bleachers will be off-limits.) Social distancing will be enforced and they are working with different leagues to make sure that is understood.
- Pierce will be contacting Little League, American Legion, Babe Ruth, National Youth Soccer Association, and Lacrosse organizations about what each group would like to do this summer and will go through all the guidelines those groups have issued. The town and the organizations will work collaboratively to determine the safest way to accomplish their goals, Pierce said, in accordance with state guidelines. He said it will be up to each organization to follow the rules.
- Officials from neighboring towns have been communicating about what they are doing, but rules may be different between towns. “Everyone’s on the same page but in different books,” Pierce added, noting that the different rules account for different facilities in each town and their respective capabilities.
- He said the order of their priorities is as follows: one–get Wilton youth sports organizations up and running, including practice and instruction, and then, two–decide how games will work and have that plan approved by the town.
- The town is looking at adding more programming, such as offering outdoor sports camps.
Pierce also reviewed some specifics for town-owned recreational and athletic facilities:
- For any facility that the town opens, the Parks & Rec Department must draw up a plan detailing reopening that must then be approved by the Emergency Operations Committee, the first selectwoman, and Health Director Barry Bogle. Pierce emphasized that “it’s a process,” and his department is staggering the opening of different facilities, something he said been “successful” so far.
- The town will not be bringing back goals or benches to the fields, because of concern about multiple people touching them.
- Kristine Lilly Field has not yet been opened to the public because of the town’s plan to phase the opening of fields. Wilton High School’s sports teams have been permitted to use Lilly Field for photographs of senior athletes, and it also will be used for WHS seniors for graduation photos.
- Comstock Community Center is still closed to the public, although Parks and Recreation staff has been working to prepare it for use for camp.
- They are working on getting clay for the baseball and softball fields and prepping the fields. The fields are currently open but the dugouts and seating are closed.
Youth sports teams have been eagerly awaiting direction from the state and town about what they will be permitted to do. In the meantime, officials from each of the sports have been creating their own safety and operational guidelines particular to their sport.
One such organization standing by for instruction on what it will be able to do is Wilton Softball. With an already-curtailed season, Wilton Softball is hoping to get underway soon. Board vice president Matthew McMahon said the group has been working with the youth baseball organizations in Wilton to create safety guidelines “stronger than what we have seen from the state or any national organizations,” for both sports.
How the season will look will depend on the approval of those sport-specific safety guidelins by the first selectwoman and the health director.
“We have been working as a board over the past number of weeks to plan and prepare for our eventual return to the fields,” McMahon wrote to GMW. “The safety and well-being of our players and their families is at the top of our minds. We have been monitoring developments at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as within the national softball and baseball governing organizations.”
Wilton Continuing Education
Dolores Tufariello, coordinator for Wilton Continuing Education, said she received approval from Wilton Public Schools superintendent Dr. Kevin Smith for outdoor tennis programs, for both kids and adults. The safety protocols for the tennis programs must be submitted and approved by the Health Director before anything is official, however. Once approved, to make sure the courts are available to the general public during the day, they plan to hold the programs in the early evening, she said.