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CIAC orders a stoppage for all fall sports activity pending further review

For New London High School athletic director Phil Orbe, for one, it's been a pretty surprising week.

The latest chapter came Friday afternoon when, two days after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference Board of Control announced the state would proceed with a fall sports season, high school athletics in the state ground to a halt with the latest edict from the CIAC.

A statement from the CIAC called for a stop to all in-person fall sports activities at this time, including conditioning, while the organization further confers with the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

"I was shocked Wednesday when the CIAC came out and said we're going to have fall sports. For the kids, that relieved anxiety and heightened excitement. And I'm shocked today," Orbe said. "It's disappointing for the kids. I can't imagine what they must be feeling like. You get that excitement, now you get this.

"Fortunately, in New London, we have very resilient athletes. We'll do what they tell us to do."

CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini made a video-recorded statement that was posted on the organization's web site Friday following the Board of Control's second meeting in three days.

"Following review of the DPH's detailed position on fall interscholastic athletics, the CIAC Board of Control has taken action to pause all fall sport activities at this time," Lungarini said. "That includes conditioning that has taken place since July 6 in accordance with the DPH recommendation.''

"The CIAC will continue to review DPH's detailed position in the coming weeks and have extended an invitation to DPH to meet with our medical advisers to better understand their positions as well as the data that supports the position they have taken for interscholastic sports."

Earlier in the week, the state-wide committees for each fall sport were asked to meet and determine whether or not that particular sport could be played safely.

The football committee voted to recommend that its season be moved to the spring, while all of the other sport committees, field hockey, soccer, cross country, volleyball and swimming, were in favor of proceeding with a fall season.

The CIAC Board of Control announced after meeting Wednesday that fall sports, including football, would go forth with a condensed, regionalized fall sports season beginning Sept. 24. Conditioning for football was set to begin Monday.

Suddenly, confusion set in.

On Thursday, the same day the Eastern Connecticut Conference announced its football schedule, a letter from the Department of Public Health addressed to Lungarini surfaced recommending that the CIAC either push football (deemed higher risk) and volleyball (moderate risk) to the spring or cancel them altogether.

On Friday, the Board of Control met again to discuss the communication with DPH and came forth with the stoppage of all in-person contact.

"The most frustrating part as an AD is we're all very organized people," Orbe said Friday. "We're planners. We're going to plan this out. You can't. On Wednesday, when they said they're going to plan this, I went into overdrive, full throttle for three days. And then 1:30 on Friday you push pause and you just stop everything.

"It's certainly a frustrating part and if it's frustrating for us, I can't imagine what our students are feeling. ... But when it comes to safety, I don't think you can question safety. I don't think it's something we question."

Fitch football coach Mike Ellis spent time with his team conditioning just Friday morning. He told his players to be on alert for a message from him just in case something changed prior to beginning conditioning on Monday.

"All of a sudden they make a decision. Now you've got to deal with that statement," Ellis said. "The only thing I don't understand is why the kids are not allowed to continue to condition. You pause it for a week and then possibly ask them to start back up the week after.

"The euphoria the kids had Wednesday and what it's like now for some of them, I feel bad for them. I feel bad for the seniors. But we still have hope going forward."

Ellis said he believed the CIAC was doing the right thing with its phased-in approach or what they called "resocialization" of sports. Because the spring season was also canceled due to COVID-19, athletes were reacclimating themselves to conditioning, with sport-specific equipment not yet allowed.

The Ledyard girls' soccer team also spent the summer conditioning, coach Emily Lehet said. They trained virtually at first, but had just switched to in-person conditioning this week in anticipation of the start of the season.

"It's definitely been up and down," Lehet said of the week-long roller-coaster. "The kids are having a hard time with it. ... I try to prep them to just wake up and see what happens.

"They had a lot of fun with (conditioning) this summer. I think they have fun with it. They're so excited to see each other, even though they're running and they might not be excited about that. ... It's disappointing, but it's a difficult decision to make (by the CIAC). I'm not envious of anybody who has to make that decision.

"The kids are working hard."



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