Things Andrew McClellan has recently discovered: it really does get dark out by late afternoon, it is not difficult to maintain a tidy domicile and, most of all, though there are a variety of ways to make use of free time as fall turns to winter, all in all he would rather be on a basketball court.
“I’ve been coaching in the winter so long you just kind of accept it,” said McClellan, who when we last saw him led the Ridgefield boys basketball team to a second straight FCIAC title and third in the past four years. “Now so much of my day is planned around what can I get done before it gets pitch dark.”
Whatever those activities are, they pale in comparison to drawing up practice plans and then spending two hours watching his players execute them.
“For me, it’s hard,” McClellan said. “This is the best time of the year for me. I was telling whoever would listen to me I’m preoccupied before the season starts and once the season starts you just don’t pay attention to stuff because you’re so busy.”
McClellan longs for the return to that schedule. Normally practice for the new season would be under way. Due to the pandemic, the CIAC has pushed the start back to Jan. 19, and that is assuming the health metrics, which have been trending downward over the last month, are considered by the state Department of Public Health safe enough to allow for a winter season in which all sports are played indoors.
That has made life uneasy for high school athletes and coaches throughout the state, including in what the Ridgefield community has dubbed “title town” after both the girls and boys basketball teams won FCIAC titles.
“This is a different year,” McClellan said. “I just hope we can give the kids, especially the seniors, the chance to play some games. I think they’re pretty down right now. I think it’s hard to keep them upbeat and motivated. They read the newspapers and watch the news.”
The Tigers, using a smart gameplan and superior cohesiveness, defeated favored Trinity Catholic, a team it lost to by 29 points during the regular season, 63-58 in the title game.
“They have the better athletes and we have the better team,” McClellan said after the game. The latter has been the one constant during the Tigers’ current run.
Instead of preparing for a run at a three-peat, McClellan’s month has been unlike any he has experienced in some time.
“My house is in order way more than it ever is,” McClellan said. “A lot more working out at this time of year than I’ve ever been able to do. Way much more home time. I get to see more of my children, which is good. You’d have to ask them if they think the same way.”
McClellan said the coaching staff is still preparing for the starting date next month. The players have been training in safe, small socially distanced groups, on their own, at a fitness facility in town.
This will be a different team from what the Tigers have recently put on the court. For one, all five starters and eight seniors have graduated, including FCIAC Player of the Year Luke McGarrity and Chris Knachel.
Amos Grey, who was part of the regular rotation, is the most experienced returning player. He will be joined by Emmett O’Malley and Matt Eiben, who both saw time off the bench and will give the Tigers more size than they have had in the past. Matthew Knachel, like his brother, will be a valuable contributor, and McClellan said he has a strong freshman class, with several players capable of making immediate impacts.
The ingredients are tantalizing. For now, McClellan is playing a waiting game, remaining optimistic.
“This year more than anything else I just hope we can give the kids some sort of enjoyment, out of their house,” McClellan said. “These kids love to compete so much, I want to be able to give them the chance to compete. I’ll be able to coach next year. I’d miss it terribly. This is the only opportunity we get with this particular team and these seniors. It would be a shame if we didn’t get to compete.”