Quiet for months, local high school sports facilities are now busy with the sight and sound of athletes preparing for a season.
After having health guidelines adapted and altered on multiple occasions over concerns from the coronavirus pandemic, teams can feel momentum building toward the start of regular season on Thursday, Oct. 1.
“It is very exciting,” said Cheshire cross country senior co-captain Cate Bedard. “It is going to be a different year, but we are happy to be back with the team.”
While the ability to compete moves closer to reality every day, many athletes have been asking, “Who can watch me play?”
While details are still being worked out, local schools have decided to not have spectators right now, or are considering options to limit the number who can attend events.
The CIAC has recommended that fans not attend contests this fall, but said schools should consult with their district and health departments in deciding what they want to do.
The Southern Connecticut Conference is working on a policy in which most schools are planning to have no spectators on campus to start the season.
“We are trying to be in alignment with the rest of the league and the CIAC recommendations,” said Cheshire Athletic Director Steve Trifone.
On Thursday, Cheshire announced it wouldn’t allow fans as a general policy. However, Trifone said that Cheshire would re-evaluate the decision if COVID-19 metrics change during the season.
There already is an exception to the no-spectator rule: Parents will be able participate with their son or daughter in senior ceremonies.
“We have to be cautious with contact tracing,” stated Trifone. “We can keep track of the athletes in sports and school, but when you add parents, it gets harder to do that.”
Trifone understands the willingness of families and students to provide support at contests.
“A fan base is a big part of athletics, but we have to remember that we are still in a pandemic and things aren’t going to be the same right now,” explained Trifone. “The most important thing is the contest.”
Sheehan and Lyman Hall have a similar plan of having no spectators at athletic events and practices. The Wallingford schools will let immediate family members attend senior ceremonies as long as they schedule in advance, wear masks and maintain a social distance of six feet.
The Wallingford policy will be re-evaluated weekly by athletic directors, district administration and local authorities.
In having numerous meetings on the topic of spectators, Lyman Hall Athletic Director Steve Baker said this wasn’t a hasty decision and added that the SCC and CIAC recommendations played a role in the process.
“The safety of the kids is the number one concern,” said Baker. “We will continue to revisit the issue throughout the season.”
While fans won’t be able to attend contests, schools are working to provide other ways for them to follow the action. In the West Gym at Cheshire and on the school’s turf field, there is a camera to broadcast competitions through the National Federation of High Schools Network.
At the Cheshire Community Pool, Trifone said, someone is planning to video swim and dive meets and then upload them to YouTube.
Lyman Hall and Sheehan are also in the process of establishing live stream options for NFHS. At LH, Baker said that the gym camera is already installed and the school is working on another one for outdoor events.
There are still issues to be worked out, such as if spectators want to attend contests held off campus, where schools do not have jurisdiction. SCC Commissioner Al Carbone said he hopes more questions can be addressed when the conference meets next week before the regular season kicks off.
Like the SCC, the Central Connecticut Conference is working on a fan policy. Maloney, Platt, and Southington are among 32 members of the conference.
“We have scenarios of limited attendance under consideration,” said Southington Athletic Director Steve Risser. “We have to be ready next week because we are hosting a (girls) soccer game (on Oct. 1).”
In a preemptive move, Wilcox Tech decided about a month ago it would not have spectators at events this season. Athletic Director Steve Wodarski said the school worked hard to bring back sports and didn’t want to take a chance at jeopardizing the opportunity to play.
Wodarski added he is hopeful that, by November, Wilcox can revisit the policy going into the winter season.
While athletic directors are planning administrative details, teams transitioned from cohorts of 10 to full-team, full-contact practices this week in cross country, field hockey, soccer, swimming and volleyball.
Teams will be able to practice for 120 minutes per session from Saturday through Oct. 1. Scrimmages can also start on Saturday.
The CIAC isn’t sponsoring 11-on-11 football this fall, but local leagues like the SCC and CCC are working to provide 7-on-7 play and activities like linemen challenges. Football teams are allowed to practice for the same time length as other sports, but can’t have person-to-person contact.