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H.S. football in our state remains a land of unequal opportunity

It was called the "summer series," a program sponsored by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference originally set for this summer to help football and wrestling make up for COVID-related lost instructional time.

Football coaches across the state say the particulars of why the CIAC ultimately canceled the series included confusion over logistics, stemming from a lack of enough give-and-take between coaches and CIAC officials. It led to less than enthusiastic responses to CIAC surveys.

Such details bear less significance, however, than the overarching effect of the program's abandonment: How the CIAC's institutional caste system continues to leave kids in poorer communities at a competitive disadvantage. Families without means have fewer avenues available to compensate for lost instructional and team time.

Past summer football initiatives in Connecticut are an homage to the timeless haves/have-nots allegory, not to mention beset by structures that allow cheating to go benignly neglected.

Generally, it goes like this, according to several coaches contacted: A number of college football programs in Connecticut (Yale, Wesleyan, Southern, Central) offer summer camps to high school kids. High school coaches "work" the camps and get many of their players, whose families can afford the camp fees, to attend. The kids get instructional time with college coaches before the cheating begins: The kids get coached by their high school coaches out of season during what coaches across the state widely refer to as the "team period" of these camps.

So if you happen to coach in, say, Fairfield County, much of your team is together because families can afford it. The residual effect is practice time and instructional time kids in poorer communities cannot access.

Think about it: Yale is running nine different one-day camps between June 24 and July 9 this summer. Registration fee is $160 per session, per the camp website. How many families in New London could afford to send their kids to even one day? And then if a high school coach decided to "work" camps at other colleges this summer, how many families in New London could afford repeated registration costs?

But the likelihood families in New Canaan could write perpetual checks? Significantly higher.

That is called competitive disadvantage through an institutional caste system.

A budding societal flaw is to reflexively criticize the haves, as if having or making money is villainous. It's not. Parents in more affluent communities shouldn't be made to feel guilty for wanting what's best for their kids. It's what good parents do.

The criticism is better directed at the system for allowing unequal opportunity. In this case, all football coaches in Connecticut (and all high school coaches in general) should be allowed to instruct their kids in some form in the offseason. It wouldn't change the inability of some programs to attend college camps. But getting the kids to the high school campus and allowing some instructional time — for free — is a better step to a fairer baseline.

The current system allows more access for people with means. And while some folks who failed critical thinking might dismiss this as the way of the world, I believe this is one way of the world that needs to change — and can change easily and painlessly.

This is not complicated. Give everyone a chance to develop an offseason program. Not all who are given the opportunity will capitalize. And that's bad coaching. But right now, if I'm Johnny Burns at New London or Mike Ellis at Fitch, I'm staring at a perpetual competitive disadvantage that's allowed under the benign neglect of the state's governing body.

I believe the CIAC allows competitive disadvantage in other forms, too (such as how schools of choice are allowed to compete for championships in Class S). But exactly none of this will change unless administrators in poorer towns speak up and demand the CIAC earnestly examine how its out-of-season instructional rules perpetuate a caste system.

The rich get richer in Connecticut high school sports. It's not the fault of the rich. It's the fault of the rulemakers who allow it to happen. And don't appear very interested in changing the status quo.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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