Last week, youth sports were sidelined in the state by the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.
Governor Ned Lamont made it official with an announcement Thursday that youth and recreational sports must cease being played in Connecticut until at least Jan. 19. The prohibition went into effect on Monday and area YMCAs are getting a fuller picture of what it means for them.
The guidelines mandate masks at the YMCA at all times, something Wallingford had already self-imposed since Nov. 13. Prior to masks being mandated at all times at Connecticut’s YMCAs, members were allowed to take off their masks while working out as long as they maintained a 12-foot distance from others.
Jay Jaronko, Southington Branch Executive Director at the Southington-Cheshire Community YMCA, was hoping there would be some leeway for the YMCA’s youth sports programs.
“Right now, our swim and youth sports programs fall into the pause until January 19,” Jaronko said. “We are engaging with the state to get some clarity for changes for lower-risk sports. We think the sports we offer are lower risk with small groups and drill clinics for very young kids. We are all on pause now and working with the state to see if there’s something we can do.
“We are all on board to stop this virus,” Jaronko added. “We are just seeing if there’s some leeway that helps us continue these programs.”
Sean Doherty, Executive Director of the Wallingford Family YMCA, said the Wallingford Dolphins swim program will be in dry dock until Jan. 19.
“We are finding ways to engage our swimmers virtually and with dry land training, virtually or in house at the YMCA fitness center,” Doherty said. “We are encouraging the kids to continue swimming. They can make reservations at our lap pool. We want to keep the kids engaged.”
The Dolphins are headed by former Lyman Hall and Eastern Connecticut State swimmer Amber Albe. She took over the job last February, just prior to the pandemic’s first major impact.
The Dolphins were shut down from March to June 22. The squad of 63 swimmers, ages 5 through 17, practiced and staged intrasquad meets through summer and fall.
“I was starting to think the shutdown was possible last week,” Albe said Monday. “We were supposed to have our first dual meet last Saturday and it was cancelled 24 hours prior to the event.
“We got this announcement on Thursday and it was unexpected on many fronts.”
Albe said the Dolphins, by following state guidelines, had six months of normalcy with no COVID-19 cases. All the same, it’s now back to Zoom practices.
“It blindsided me, but we are looking ahead,” Albe said. “This week, we are doing virtual dry land boot camp over Zoom like we did in March. The YMCA is open and the pool space is there for the kids to rent, but I’m not present.”
Albe said she feels bad for her swimmers who really flourished in the pool after remote learning for a good chunk of the school year.
“The biggest thing is the kids aren’t in school and now don’t have swim practice as their outlet,” Albe said. “I’ve seen kids who are otherwise reserved come out of their shells. They have really taken advantage of having practices. I’ve seen kids getting lifetime best times even with shortened practices.”
Doherty said the Dolphins’ season may be extended to make up for some of the lost time.
“We will adapt as best as we can,” Doherty said. “There are zigs and zag,s but we are trying to stay positive.”
In Meriden, John Benigni, CEO of the Meriden-New Britain-Berlin YMCA, said his facility is still open and still offering swimming and gymnastics lessons, but everything with a team aspect is on a pause until Jan. 19. Those team sports include basketball, swimming and volleyball.
Benigni said hundreds of children will be impacted in some capacity at his facility and added that the YMCA has also been using virtual platforms to remain in touch with children and families since the pandemic hit.