My Point

2020 Was The Year Of The Resilient Athlete In The FCIAC

New Canaan goaltender Beau Johnson celebrates a 4-3 win over Darien for the FCIAC boys hockey title. (Matt Dewkett)

When I entered the Staples gymnasium on March 9, little did I know the normalcy of my profession and, soon, all our lives, was in for a drastic change. The Wreckers on that night defeated Glastonbury in a Class LL girls basketball quarterfinal game to set up a meeting with Greenwich in the Final Four.

News soon filtered out that Norwalk, which had teams playing that night in playoff games, was going to forfeit any future contests because of the spread of the coronavirus. The next day the CIAC, showing prescience, canceled the remainder of the winter season, causing an initial uproar.

Now, nine months later, we are at a similar dangerous stage as we are experiencing the anticipated upswing in the spread of Covid. The fall season, with some setbacks, was just able to get its schedule completed the week before it likely would have been halted.

That season came without any state sanctioned football. In retrospect, after watching what has happened on the college and professional levels, we learned that football was not different from other sports in terms of the risk. There are more games getting canceled or moved around now as the numbers skyrocket in society.

Despite the arguments to the contrary, back at the time, given the unknowns, it was hard to argue with erring on the side of caution, though it would have been understandable if a season was attempted given the positive metrics at the time.

In the end it would have been impossible to go against the guidelines set by the state Department of Public Health. Many superintendents would not have allowed their schools to participate. Still, there was the valid point made that since youth football was being played it was inconsistent not to let the high schools compete as well.

The Ridgefield field hockey team celebrates winning the Central Region title.

Another fair complaint is the length of time it took before a final decision was made to cancel the football season, or at least postpone it to a possible window this winter. This stemmed from the CIAC doing the wrong thing for the right reason, moving the goalposts for a starting date in the hope of having an abbreviated season.

With lightning speed, a number of FCIAC schools, under the umbrella of the Fairfield County Football League, the youth football league for eight towns, were able to set up a month-long season. They would have liked to have had those few early weeks for more games.

It was impressive nonetheless to see how what was termed the senior division moved so quickly to organize, overcoming what initially appeared to be insurmountable obstacles, to get the players some sort of football experience.

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This has been a forgettable year, and in pondering the best of 2020 you have to go past the many asterisks. A few winter sports, like wrestling, track and gymnastics, got to finish their state playoffs, while boys and girls basketball and boys hockey came up less than two weeks short. Spring sports never had a season, while fall sports had an abbreviated and regionalized one.

Since it is pretty certain we are not going to have a memorable moment over the next 16 days, what were the best sports stories this year? Certainly Ridgefield winning FCIAC boys and girls basketball titles. The New Canaan boys hockey team avenging a sizable loss to Darien for the league championship. The dominance on a national level by Fairfield Ludlowe track star Tess Stapleton. The Ridgefield field hockey team’s regional title and the Brien McMahon boys soccer team’s share of a regional title last month.

But the major high school sports story of 2020, and this isn’t really surprising, was the resiliency of the athletes. We have all had to sacrifice in varied ways since March, FCIAC athletes included.

Spring senior sports athletes handled never getting a final season with grace and dignity. And fall sport athletes were tremendous in their appreciation for getting the chance to compete, no many how many games they got in.

Watching the spirit and resilience of the athletes was a reminder of what makes covering high school sports so compelling. The games may seem the same, but there is a different story every day.

Hopefully in 2021, the number of games will be the equal of the stories.


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