My Point

The Choice For Winter Athletes Is Crystal Clear: Sports Or Social Life?

Greenwich goaltender Charlie Zolin looks to pounce on a puck during a game last season again New Canaan. (Matt Dewkett)

The news last week that the Wilton sports program had to shut down for two weeks because of a Covid outbreak traced back to parties sent ripples throughout the FCIAC.

This case happened to be in Wilton, but it could have been at any school. The fact that this derived from the social activities of teen-aged students was hardly a surprise.

What did cause a case of incredulity is this took place on the second day the CIAC allowed winter sports teams to begin conditioning and practice. For the Wilton athletes, they were forced to shut down before they had barely worked up a sweat.

There was no word about whether any Wilton athletes attended the parties. As is often the case, they easily could have been innocent bystanders, forced to quarantine because of contact tracing.

But let’s be brutally honest, and this pertains to winter athletes in all sports at all schools: if you put yourself in a situation at a large social gathering where students are not wearing masks and practicing distancing, you are a lousy teammate. And you’ve sacrificed the right to talk about how much the chance to play your sport means to you.

Your message is clear: Friday nights with friends are more important than being on the basketball court, the ice or in the pool.

Friday afternoon I was on a text chain with three coaches, asking if there was anything I could do to promote good decision making. A campaign? A contest? I talked to FCIAC commissioner Dave Schulz.

Coaches have been beating home the message urging their players to be smart with their free time. They advised me that a column like this one would help because athletes cannot hear the message enough.

And, upon reflection, if you need incentive from me or anyone else, what does that say about your level of commitment?

So here we are. I’m not really comfortable telling teenagers — or anyone, for that matter — how to live their lives. Besides it is not my domain.

I was pretty social in high school so I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite. But thinking back — way back — I can’t recall I loved anything more than playing basketball. It is where I had the most fun, where I had success that made me feel good about myself, the outlet for my competitiveness. Nothing felt better than hitting a big shot or making the nice pass that got a teammate an easy basket.

If we were struck by a pandemic I like to think basketball would have been a driving force in my decision making.

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Soapbox time: We are all making sacrifices. I won’t eat indoors so my social life has been limited to the one restaurant with a great outdoor tent where I feel comfortable. The most excitement I had last Saturday night was losing power for two hours. If I do poorly in NCAA Tournament pools this year, it will not be due to limited knowledge on the teams.

I’m not complaining: these are my personal choices. I am fortunate I don’t have to worry about paying my rent next month or keeping my refrigerator stocked.

Students have been put in a horrible situation navigating in-school, hybrid and remote learning. It’s hard to grasp having a normal educational experience outside the classroom. And if you are involved in an extracurricular activity this has been compounded. Winter athletes spent close to two months not knowing if they would have a season. Some seniors worried their careers might be over.

For any basketball and hockey players or swimmers feeling complacent right now, go talk to a member of your school’s wrestling team. Their sport has been canceled.

Someone can take all the right steps and still have the misfortune of catching Covid. There is no full-proof way of staying safe.

There will be outbreaks this winter, teams forced to quarantine and games canceled. It happened in the fall when most games were outdoors. But administrators said many of the outbreaks at their schools were traced back to social activities.

I do selfishly have a vested interest. It has been a little difficult the last 10 months running a media company predicated on covering high school sports without high school sports. More so, I like my job. I like going to games, being around the coaches and athletes, finding good stories. This was reinforced last week when I first started attending practices again.

So winter athletes, you won’t have complete control of your seasons, but you can enhance the chances by making good choices.

WEAR A MASK. STAY SOCIALLY DISTANT. IF YOU WANT TO HAVE THE FULL SEASON THAT HAS BEEN ARRANGED FOR YOU, MAKE GOOD DECISIONS.

To borrow from the ubiquitous athletic company, JUST DO IT.


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