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Small-school programs welcome news of playing H.S. football in fall

A.J. and Jen Massengale were out for a walk late Wednesday afternoon, discussing how rapidly things change this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how to deal with it.

A.J. Massengale, Stonington High School's football coach, had been getting his program ready to play this fall, only to find out earlier this week that the CIAC football committee had voted to move the season to the spring of 2021.

Wednesday, the CIAC Board of Control turned down that recommendation and declared that all fall sports would be played as regularly scheduled. Football will be the first to start practice on Monday.

"You just have to be able to go with the flow each day and don't get too worked up about it," Massengale said. "Just keep it moving, adjust and be malleable."

The news that football would still be played this fall was great news for Stonington and other teams from small-and-medium sized schools. Moving fall sports to the spring would've stretched those schools too thin as they don't have enough students to go around.

Eight of the 15 teams that play football in the Eastern Connecticut Conference are in the CIAC's smallest division (Class S). Another four are in Class M.

The Valley Regional/Old Lyme co-op, which plays in the Pequot Football Conference, plays in Class M. So does Thames River, comprised of Norwich Tech, Grasso Tech and St. Bernard, which is plays in the Connecticut Technical Conference.

"(It) was not in the best interests of small and medium-sized schools to say the least, including Montville High School," said Montville head coach Tanner Grove, who is a part of the CIAC football committee. "It was already starting to put me in a big bind with several kids in the community who are a little more advanced in other sports and maybe would have to pick-and-choose. Hearing the news that they weren't going to be put in that predicament is good."

Montville is one of seven ECC schools with less than 400 boys. It was so low in numbers last year that it was starting a freshman at quarterback by the end of the end of the season. Griswold began a co-op with Wheeler in order to boost its numbers.

"It's been a crazy week with the range of emotions," Massengale said. "I sent a message out to the kids and parents earlier in the week about the football committee's recommendation and kind of saying that it's not final until the Board of Control meets on Wednesday, and not having a great feeling about it (playing this fall).

"Then still having workouts this week (in preparation for the fall), and I talked to the kids about (having to play in the spring) in more detail after our workouts (Wednesday). Then being able to send out a message that, once again, as the world turns, things have changed again and we're back on for the fall."

Valley Regional/Old Lyme began a co-op some time ago when the former was struggling with low numbers. Moving football to the spring would've been a challenge for both schools as well as Warriors head coach Tim King, who also coaches Valley's boys' outdoor track and field team.

"It would've been something," King said. "It's kind of nice getting back into the swing of things as well, and I'm sure everybody feels the same way. We left the building on March 13 and we haven't been back since. I left my office the way it was and it's been that way ever since."

The Region 4 school district (Chester, Deep River and Essex) has not allowed Valley/Old Lyme to hold conditioning workouts.

"It'll be nice to get back to some sort of normalcy, if that's possible," King said. "It's going to be a challenge, no doubt about it."


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