of athletics
breeds concern
The decision to push back the start of winter high school athletics was not a shocker.
Many had expected it after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference originally released a plan to have winter sports, including basketball and hockey with modifications, begin early in December.
The CIAC Board of Control, made up primarily of superintendents and principals, nixed that idea the week before Thanksgiving.
After several large school systems in the state decided they would go to all remote learning through the holidays due to the pandemic and the high incidence of cases either in the town or in the schools, the Board of Control decided to follow suit.
Now, winter sports are scheduled to, optimistically, begin when those larger school systems return to some form of in-person learning on Jan. 19.
Fortunately for many student-athletes at The Woodstock Academy, all has not been lost thus far.
Due, in part, to the fact that the school opted to continue remote learning throughout the fall season, fall athletics were not interrupted like they were at so many high schools around the state.
“Our mission all along has been to keep kids active and I think we’ve done a great job of that. We had a successful fall season,” said athletic director Sean Saucier.
It may not have been a typical season, but it was a season.
With the exception of cross-country, the Centaurs fall varsity teams all had contests that numbered in the double digits.
And all had something to play for at the end.
The boys’ soccer and girls’ volleyball teams captured regional “titles” while the girls’ soccer team lost in a regional final and the field hockey team fell in a semifinal contest.
Now, the hold button has been pressed as winter approaches.
“I think it’s terrible for the kids,” said Woodstock Academy girls’ basketball coach Will Fleeton. “Some were able to participate in sports this fall, but those that didn’t have essentially been sitting since last March. That’s encroaching on a year for some of them. I feel for them because that is what we’re all in this for, it’s all about them. For them not to be able to participate right now is a bitter pill to swallow, but on the other side of the coin is reality. I don’t know what the correct answer is but until we all do, this is how we have to take it.”
The COVID-19 vaccines are on the way.
Unfortunately, the predicted second wave of the pandemic arrived first.
And while most may be able to receive the vaccine in the next several months, it will not be in time to save the holiday season, nor the start of the high school winter season.
Winter, as it is, can be a very depressing period here in the Northeast.
The weather does not lend to a lot of outdoor activity.
The lack of sunlight for an extended period of time and cold temperatures turns the focus indoors.
It’s a fertile breeding ground for an aggressive virus looking for human hosts.
“This ‘dead’ time, if you will, is very concerning to me as an athletic director and a parent,” Saucier said. “Lack of activity, social disconnection, it’s all very concerning.”
Woodstock Academy boys’ basketball coach Marty Hart said he saw the postponement coming as the number of virus cases rose.
“I’m worried about the mental aspect of it. I have three teenage boys in my house and they need to be active, they need to be busy. They need to have something to do that is positive, supervised and competitive to engage them. I worry for them. The phone can suck up a lot of their time. The computer, the internet, Tik Tok, Snapchat, or any of those things are not real. It’s kind of pretend. I think that for some of these adolescents, having that face-to-face interaction in a positive, supervised environment is lacking and you worry for the kids,” Hart said.
The Academy was planning to fill the “dead” time with intramural programs especially basketball and hockey.
But those hopes were dashed when Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced a week before Thanksgiving that not only was interscholastic competition postponed, but all indoor competition from youth to adults will not be allowed until Jan. 19.
Hart thinks the governor was taking steps to not have a repeat of the fall where some independent football programs and other sports sprung up to fill the void left by the CIAC.
This time, no scrimmages, camps, competitions, clinics or tournaments involving four or more people, including pickup games, are allowed. Teams are also not allowed to break up into teams of four to keep practicing or playing.
“I thought we were formulating a good plan to keep kids engaged and active and fit within the boundaries that are set. This is the first time since last spring that we have been handcuffed, completely, in terms of trying to help kids be active,” Saucier said.
Just to the north, as of press time, Massachusetts was still planning to begin winter sports in December.
For those playing youth sports who live in Connecticut but who belonged to a youth hockey team, for example, prior to the governor’s decree, it was feasible they could continue to play over the border.
Although Woodstock Academy boys’ ice hockey coach and Massachusetts resident Kevin Bisson said even that is tricky.
“It’s not like Connecticut kids can flee the state and find a team to play on. They had to be established in a (Massachusetts-based) program. Even that is not an easy task. I have a Connecticut player on my son’s youth hockey team who has not been able to play since the rules went into effect because he can’t get tested. The rule is that every single time you cross the (Massachusetts) border; you’re supposed to be tested. If we have three practices and two games per week, in theory, you are supposed to be tested five times a week and getting those results back to be allowed in and not having to quarantine. It’s just not realistic,” Bisson said.
All that said, most are hopeful that come January, winter sports will be allowed to take place with modifications.
“I’m optimistic,” Saucier said. “Once the holidays are behind us, I think we have a shot. It will be regional, I’m sure; spectator-less, I imagine.”
In specific, regional is OK for a sport like high school basketball at Woodstock Academy although the first game will likely be much later than Jan. 19.
Fall sports were allowed to start in July for a season that didn’t begin until the end of September.
With athletes having been idle for a minimum of two months and for many, much more than that, and the additional impact of having to play with masks on, it will take some preseason training.
“We have to have some type of conditioning. It’s almost been a year for some of these kids. It’s tryouts and all that stuff. I don’t know how far off an actual competition date would be but there are a lot of things that have to be done before you can compete,” Fleeton said. “It just makes the itch (to play), itchier.”
It’s not so easy for hockey.
Both the Centaurs boys’ and girls’ ice hockey programs are struggling to find games since there is, literally, no regional competition available.
The only other program based within the confines of the ECC, the ECC Eagles which is comprised of athletes from about a dozen ECC and other schools, will not play this season due to that mixture of athletes.
Other programs also are cooperative programs and may not be able to play, plus some schools have imposed travel restrictions on their programs.
“I think we have rebuilt the schedule at least three times and this will be a fourth,” Bisson said. “Every time the season shifts, programs have either cancelled the game with us or cancelled their program. The list of opponents to play against is shrinking. That means we may have to stay within our own little world of Woodstock Academy with practices and scrimmages. That becomes more questionable as winter sports continue to encroach upon spring sports and the new season that (the CIAC created for football, etc. which is scheduled to begin in February). It doesn’t look good for hockey or for winter sports in general.”
The Centaurs boys’ ice hockey schedule began with 20 games, shrunk back to two, went back up to eight and is now currently at four or five games.
Because Connecticut schools, most likely, will not be able to cross state lines for interscholastic games, the girls’ ice hockey program, a member of the Central Massachusetts League, lost all but two of its scheduled 16 games.
 “I pray there is something for the kids’ sake,” Fleeton said. “For the 2021 graduates, even underclassmen, to have that outlet. Sports was always my outlet and if you took that away, I don’t know what would have happened to me. For some, it’s very important. If we get a sliver of hope for a season, it’s better than nothing.”
Marc Allard
Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy


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