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CIAC approves H.S. winter sports regular season with no state tournaments

New London High School is a good example of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference's winter season — it may not start on time but the Whalers are raring to go.

"I don't foresee it's going to take much time at all (to get going)," New London athletic director Phil Orbe said. "We might have to push things back a couple of days, but we're working on some solutions for it."

High school basketball, boys' swimming, gymnastics and ice hockey officially received the green light on Thursday as the CIAC's Board of Control approved its winter sports plan.

Teams may begin conditioning on Jan. 19 and start play on Feb. 8. The proposal the CIAC had sent to its Board had recommended a starting date of Feb. 1.

Basketball teams may schedule up to 12 regular-season games. All sports can only compete twice a week.

There won't be any postseason state tournaments as previously planned. Leagues may conduct regional tournaments (March 15-29), similar to what the Eastern Connecticut Conference and Shoreline Conferences held in the fall.

The ECC will not allow spectators, league commissioner Gary Makowicki said.

Sports that were considered "high-risk" by the Connecticut Department of Health — competitive cheerleading/dance and wrestling — were canceled and may conduct "small group conditioning and non-contact skill building," according to the CIAC's plan.

Indoor track, which the DPH classified as "moderate risk," was postponed due to the sport requiring a large group of athletes to get together. They may practice, however, and the CIAC will reexamine having dual meets or smaller group team conference meets in March if the weather permits for outdoor competitions.

There won’t be an “alternative” football season, either, because of time constraints and the DPH's recommendation to not hold sports deemed “high-risk” during the winter season, CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

The CIAC’s Board of Control voted in September to allow for a shortened football season with practices starting Feb. 27 and a six-game schedule that ended on April 17. The Board also set the dates for a winter season running from Dec. 7-Feb. 21, including tournaments.

The CIAC, on Nov. 17, 2020, moved back the start date for winter sports to Jan. 19 due to concerns related to COVID-19.

Athletes, coaches and officials must always wear masks, although swimmers can remove their masks before entering the pool and gymnasts can remove their masks before competing on individual apparatuses. Basketball and hockey athletes will be allowed mask breaks and the opportunity to make multiple mask changes.

Montville, New London and Norwich Free Academy won't be able to start practicing on Jan. 19 because they're presently conducting distance learning.

Montville expects to return to hybrid instruction on Jan. 21.

Norwich Free Academy is scheduled to return on Jan. 25.

New London, which went to full remote learning a week before the holidays, is expected to return to in-person classes on Feb. 1.

"Interestingly, we had decided to do that before the CIAC came out with changing (the start of the regular season) from Feb. 1 to the 8th," Makowicki said. "We've got schools that are going to be out for now until February. It just gives schools more time."

The CIAC's plan called for regional scheduling, thus the ECC won't play out of league. Makowicki said it will break up its boys' and girls' basketball teams into two divisions with regional play with an alignment to be announced at a later date.

The ECC doesn't have enough gymnastics and swimming teams to require two divisions. The league will have postseason tournaments, too.

"We're in the process of talking about winter schedules," Makowicki said. "We're going to meet next week to put our final approval on it, and once we set up our schedules, it's going to be up to the individual schools to either cancel if they can't play, and for schools to fill in games because other schools can't participate."

Orbe provided an example of being flexible with scheduling.

"I make the (conference) schedule for fencing (a non-CIAC sanctioned sport)," he said. "There's a bye week in fencing, so New London is going to have a bye week the first week. There are nine fencing teams, so eight will start on Feb. 13 and New London will not compete until Feb. 20."

The winter sports proposal the CIAC sent to its Board included state tournaments. The Board of Control decided against it because of school shutdowns.

“With different schools coming back at different times, it’s going to be a bit of a limiting factor for scheduling within those leagues at the start of the season,” Lungarini said. “We also have to anticipate that there are going to be teams that will be required to quarantine. We are still playing in a COVID-19 pandemic, so we have to anticipate as well that there will be disruptions to the schedule throughout the winter season.

“We don’t want state tournaments to be a limiting factor in kids being able to play games.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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