Cassi Barbato was in between classes early this afternoon when the news came out that the state Department of Public Health advised the CIAC that low- and moderate-risk sports — basketball, hockey, track, swimming and gymnastics — can begin practicing a week from tomorrow as long as safety protocols are followed.
The CIAC Board of Control will vote Thursday, in what now seems like a formality, to approve a plan that will allow for regular-season games to be played no sooner than Feb. 1.
“Overall I’m just excited,” said Barbato, the All-FCIAC guard on Trumbull’s girls basketball team. “I finally get to step onto the court again for my senior season and practice with my teammates every day.”
While years from now FCIAC athletes and coaches will not likely be recalling where they were when today’s news came down, the lack of historic significance was not going to dampen optimism that if the health metrics are accommodating, winter athletes will get something similar to what took place in the fall: an abbreviated season that was savored when confronted with the prospect of no season at all.
“Obviously I’m very excited, as are my players,” Fairfield Ludlowe boys basketball coach John Dailey said. “Things are not set in stone quite yet. We still have to wait until Thursday but the fact the Department of Health approved the January 19 start date is really exciting news. I haven’t really wrapped my head around it quite honestly. It’s part of what will be a different season and all part of the challenge.”
The day wasn’t bright for everyone. Wrestling and cheerleading are considered high-risk sports and unfortunately will be limited to small group conditioning and non-contact skills.
What lies ahead is a lot of unknowns. The fall season started three weeks later than scheduled and the FCIAC just barely completed it before a likely cancellation as the weather got colder and the number of Covid cases started to rise.
We now turn to a season where all games will be played indoors. Facemasks will need to be worn and those on the sidelines will have to maintain social distancing. Schools are struggling with getting students into the classrooms full-time, or even under a hybrid model.
About an hour after the CIAC’s announcement, Connecticut was moved to CovidActNow’s “severe outbreak” category, joining two other neighboring New England states in the most dangerous of five designations.
Based on what happened in the fall, a number of coaches said a Feb. 1 starting date may be overly optimistic. Teams will need to condition and make cuts before practicing for still-to-be-determined opponents.
FCIAC commissioner Dave Schulz said while it will not take long for him to make out schedules, he cannot begin until he knows both the starting and ending dates for the regular season.
Somewhat apples and oranges, there have been a number of cancellations in both NCAA basketball and hockey, but thus far they have navigated the pandemic to have credible seasons.
Many returning winter athletes remember what it was like to have their postseasons abruptly canceled, spring athletes dealt with having no seasons and the fall saw abbreviated schedules that were appreciated and savored given the alternatives.
A lot of what happens going forward will be beyond the control of administrators, coaches and players. Today was one of optimism that winter teams will at least be given the opportunity to try and get to the starting line.
“I’m especially happy for our senior group,” Ridgefield boys hockey coach Shaun Gallagher said. “Seeing the end of last year and what last year’s seniors went through when the season got cut short. These seniors, it would have been devastating, and all the kids who put so much time and effort into the sport.”
Now that there is a ray of light, FCIAC coaches tonight are no doubt only thinking about the possibility of a new season starting in eight days.
“I was very cautiously optimistic the last couple of months. Get practices planned, tryouts planned,” Dailey said. “Now that it’s official it will be get everything going. I’ve got a lot of work to do.”