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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    A victory for equity and the have-nots, thanks to CIAC

    Our ongoing education teaches us that the rich always get richer. It’s what they do. That’s how they got to be rich.

    This is why it falls on governing bodies to adopt policies that promote more equitable baselines of competition for both the haves and have nots, at least to provide the have nots with a rock for the slingshot.

    This has always been my biggest criticism of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, the state’s governing body of high school sports. The CIAC moves at the pace of an arthritic snail — if at all — to permit an institutional caste system that leaves kids in poorer communities at a competitive disadvantage.

    Except that there is happy news today for which CIAC officials should be commended. Their latest policy addresses competitive disadvantage with an exclamation point.

    From June 10 to Aug. 10 and for the first time in state history, high school coaches will be allowed four hours per week of out-of-season (summer) instructional time with all their players who choose to participate. Within the new policy comes the caveat that coaches are no longer allowed to coach their own players at summer camps and clubs.

    This is significant because for many years, out of season coaching has been rampant at elite camps and clubs, affordable mostly (only?) to the affluent.

    Example: Lou Marinelli, the wildly successful football coach at New Canaan, said to me once that he’s sent his players to skill camps at Boston College, Syracuse, Holy Cross, Maine, Yale, Princeton, Rutgers and Virginia. (The Yale camp this year costs $170 per player per day.) Marinelli even said a few years ago that New Canaan has also sent players of the Mormon persuasion by airplane to a camp at Brigham Young.

    New Canaan's affluence (average household income $239,209) allows its players to pay camp fees as well as other costs of hotels, transportation and food. Most kids in Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury and New London simply don’t have such opportunities.

    College skill camps provide high school players with a higher level of instruction. At those camps, high school coaches, as “volunteer” instructors, are normally able to pull their players aside at various moments through the day/week and conduct out of season practice, a major competitive advantage. This new rule prohibits that, provided it is policed properly. Coaches who dare break the rule should be reminded everyone has a cell phone now with a functional camera.

    Lest you doubt the significance of this new rule, try this: In the 2022 high school football season, I compared the records of football programs in the state’s 20 towns with the highest median incomes to the records of programs in the schools where at least 50 percent of the kids are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. The programs in the affluent towns compiled a record of 96-64. The programs in poorer communities were 94-162.

    Here is the first significant step toward productive change.

    “This evens the playing field for everyone,” Fitch football coach Mike Ellis said earlier this week. “I can remember many times we’d go to Hand (in Madison, average household income $185,594) for our first scrimmage. They’re in midseason form and we’re just trying to get our kids lined up correctly.”

    Ellis, whose team missed the playoffs two seasons back because of losses to high income Fairfield Prep and New Fairfield, said the Falcons will begin their summer program June 24.

    “There will be a lot of skill work,” he said. “A lot of time to teach little things. Footwork. Tackling concepts. Then when we start practice in August, we’ll have a good baseline and can move a little faster. We hope this is going to be very productive.”

    The new rules apply to all sports, but just for the summer months.

    “We’re excited,” Waterford boys’ basketball coach Bill Bassett said. “We were thinking about using the time to coach our summer league team. But we decided to have (program alums) Sean O’Connell and Jordan Elci coach it instead. Then we’ll still have our allotted time to work on skill development and building chemistry.”

    Among the criticisms of the new policy: Coaches will place undo pressure on their players to participate in summer workouts or risk losing playing time the following season.

    “It’s a balance,” Bassett said. “Of course, if you are working out twice a week, you’re going to get better. But at the same time, we need to respect that our school has many multi-sport athletes who have a lot coming at them. We need to respect family time. We’ve explored times to do this for basketball that won’t interfere with other sports at the school.”

    Ellis said, “We’d never let this get in the way of family time, family vacations, or anything like that. This is the summer. But we hope that when the kids are in Groton, they’re with us.”

    This is a bold move from the CIAC. It is a triumph for promoting equity. Bravo.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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