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H.S. coaches are confident about safety rules in place to play this fall

Stonington High School field hockey coach Jenna Tucchio, who has been holding conditioning sessions for her team this summer in accordance with Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference rules, has seen how diligent her players are about following the guidelines of social distancing in the year of COVID-19.

"They go to pretend high-five and I'll be like, 'Don't even pretend,'" Tucchio said with a laugh. "They're like, 'Sorry, sorry, sorry.' They want to be safe. They know that any protocol that's not followed, we'll be shut down. Either we do this right or we don't do it at all."

Tucchio was a member of the state's field hockey committee which met earlier this week via Zoom video conference. The committee from each individual fall sport convened prior to Wednesday's CIAC Board of Control meeting, tasked with answering the following question.

Do you feel it's safe to play your sport this fall?

Tucchio said the members of the field hockey committee answered unanimously: Yes.

In fact, all of the fall sports committees other than football answered affirmatively.

The Board of Control later announced that fall sports, including football, would proceed with a condensed, regionalized fall sports season beginning Sept. 24.

"I do think the process they have for bringing us back is the safest way to do it," Tucchio said. "We've been doing our conditioning all summer with great success. We do have things in place this summer that have been run successfully. Just like when we go back to school, do it gently. It's a good way to go about it."

Tucchio said her team will continue its conditioning until Aug. 27, when it can begin return-to-play protocol. One-hour practices at that time may consist of 30 minutes of conditioning and 30 minutes of sport-specific skill instruction, she said. Full team practices may begin Sept. 11 with a 12-game regular season commencing on Sept. 24.

Tucchio, for one, has said all along she's not in favor of moving sports around to different seasons, such as has been suggested.

"You're never going to catch up," Tucchio said. "Either you can do it now or you can't do it now. If you can't, it's a pandemic, it's unfortunate. That's it. I don't like the whole domino effect of trying to scramble things around. In the long run, you're just digging yourselves a deeper hole."

Lyman Memorial athletic director Scott Elliott is also the school's assistant boys' soccer coach under head coach Ryan Fabry. As such, Elliott is on the state's soccer committee, which met Wednesday morning.

As Lyman's AD, he was privy to the conversation among football coaches, who recommended earlier this week that the sport move its season to the spring. He thought that same conversation might manifest itself among soccer coaches, but it didn't.

"Can we pull it off? That was really the crux of the conversation," Elliott said. "Here's the plan. Here's what the expectations might be. My big question wasn't whether we could do things safely. This summer, you saw the English Premier League, the Hartford Athletic able to handle their business without too many issues.

"Can we do it? Sure. We can probably follow all those same guidelines."

Elliott's concerns came mainly as athletic director. What if cases of COVID spike during the season? Would that mean the end of every fall sports athlete's career? How will he tell parents of seniors that they're not allowed to watch their child compete? What if conditions are no better in the spring?

Soccer-wise, Elliott would be thrilled to see the Bulldogs compete.

"We've got a group of boys coming up that have been playing together since they were young," Elliott said. "We have multiple-sport athletes that have still found the time to be year-round soccer players. They're quality individuals.

"I just want to see the kids play again. I would feel really, really bad without getting to coach those kids one more time. We generally have a good bond with those kids. They're fun to be with."

East Lyme girls' soccer coach Rachel Redding, meanwhile, led her team to a Class L state championship berth last season and had hoped for a return trip this year.

Redding, who watched her daughter Molly endure her own series of disappointments and cancellations this year as a member of the East Lyme High School Class of 2020, called Wednesday's announcement by the CIAC Board of Control "something that almost seems, 'normal,' again."

Redding remained guarded in her optimism, however.

"Of course that's exciting," she said. "But we all have to make sure everything goes nice and smooth. We've got to keep everybody healthy and safe.

"We coach for a reason. Kids play these sports for a reason. It's something we all love and we want to be a part of. Would it be great if we could have a successful season? Yes. But I want to make sure all my players and staff are safe and healthy. As long as we, as coaches, as the adults, make sure we're following everything. If we do everything that's right, if we do that, we might have a better chance."


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