WATERTOWN - On August 31, they low-risk practiced. After what only has seemed like forever, Watertown High School’s fall sports teams finally got down to (limited) business on the final day of the month, hoping it would be the start of an uninterrupted, even if much-shorter, season. Originally given the go-ahead by the CIAC to begin on August 29, the Indians (yes they are still called that) waited out a bad weather forecast for that date and began getting prepared 48 hours later.

“We’re as ready as we can be,” said WHS athletic director Paul Catuccio. “It’s of course unlike anything we’ve ever anticipated having to deal with, but we’ve followed the guidelines and are ready.”

At his team’s first low-risk cohort workout under cloudy but very-comfortable conditions at the Mills Complex, WHS football coach Shawn Stanco and his assistants put the players through their paces, ever-mindful of the looming specter that at any moment, things could change.

“We’re taking it one day at a time, which is all we can do,” said Stanco. “We’re makng sure that we stay in the guidelines, get the work in we need to, and hope that we can kick it up and be where we have to be when we are hopefully given the go-ahead to play.”

Stanco, a WHS graduate and long-time assistant, is one of two new head coaches his alma mater this fall; taking over the girls’ swimming and diving program for the retired Garry Smith will be Holly (Poirier) Hanecak.

Since he took over for Luigi Velardi in February, Stanco has not had the luxury of a normal routine in adjusting to his new title.

“That’s right,” he said. “Not long afterwards, everything changed; it doesn’t seem as if there’s been one normal day  to plan in the meantime.” 

Cross country, girls’ swimming and diving, soccer, field hockey, girls’ volleyball, and football, after some back-and-forth between the CIAC and the state’s Department of Public Health, were green-lighted, but are being restricted to low risk conditioning and non-contact sport specific skill work, in cohorts no larger than 10, through Sunday, September 20.

Why that particular date?

The CIAC determined in it’s fall sports plan statement that September 21 was the date “at which most of our member schools will have been in session for approximately two weeks (many schools will begin instruction on or before September 8).

“We believe that a minimum of two weeks of COVID data is necessary to determine whether the return to on campus instruction will impact extracurricular offerings,” said CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lugarini at a press conference at the organization’s headquarters in Cheshire on August 27.

“Therefore, no full team practices will occur prior to September 21, and we will monitor COVID metrics daily and provide an update to member schools each Friday on the outlook for the following week.” 

If the COVID metrics support it, the CIAC target date for competition in all sports to begin is Thursday, October 1, but Lungarini admitted “our plan is fluid and we are continuing to monitor and align as much as possible with the DPH.”

As for the DPH recommendations that volleyball be shifted outdoors and football be played in a seven-on-seven format, the CIAC responded.

“We examined the possibility of playing outdoor volleyball games and have determined that it is not feasible for our member schools. A lack of sturdy outdoor standards, inclement weather in the fall months, equity of resources to establish outdoor courts, and a significant loss of participants who would simply choose to play indoors for a club team during the fall season are the primary considerations that have eliminated outdoor play as an option,” Lungarini said.

“In collaboration with medical experts, we continue to hold the belief that current Connecticut COVID metrics support playing 11 vs. 11 full contact football, in accordance with the ReOpen CT Guidelines for non-interscholastic sports. It is our intention to make every effort possible to provide Connecticut students athletes with a safe 11 vs. 11 football season.

“We are aligning with everyone to be on the same page,” said Lungarini. 

When asked how the metrics will effact the future, Lungarini was hopeful but to-the-point.

“We are aware of how the decisions we make how will impact the future; with winter indoor sports, they deserve the value of time so we are able to make decisions that are best for them and see where the metrics are,” Lungarini said.

Taking everything into consideration - and it is considerable - Lungarini said that the impact on the student-athletes is first and foremost.

“The social and emotional well-being of the kids is very important; their value goes well-beyond wins and losses.”

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