Student-athletes and their coaches are upset with Connecticut’s high school sports association for its decision to cut the winter sports season short due to the spread of COVID-19. In Cheshire Wednesday, some of them protested outside the offices of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
Senior Maddi Larkin held up a sign that read, “Corona is not a reason to cancel the tournament.”
Her Sheehan High School team from Wallingford was about to play in the quarterfinals of the CIAC Class MM girls basketball tournament.
But now, she and another senior teammate won’t get to play again.
“To end our season and career like that was really heartbreaking,” Larkin said. “We don’t think that the coronavirus should be a reason that all of us should lose the end of our season that we’ve worked so hard for.”
At one point, students descended on the building yelling, “Let us in.”
They wanted to hear from the CIAC’s executive director, Glenn Lungarini, who eventually addressed reporters in the basement of the building. He said the association would not budge.
“It’s the last decision that we wanted to make, but in the end, we have to do what we believe is in the best interest of safety, and we stand by the decision that we made,” Lungarini said.
When the students approached the doors of CIAC headquarters, which were guarded by Cheshire police officers, senior Ethan Waskiel was on the front lines. The swimmer for Pomperaug High School in Southbury held a sign that read, “No sports, No school!”
“It wasn’t -- in my opinion -- a very smart idea,” he said of the cancellations. “I think they had many other options, but I don’t think it was really thought out as much as it could’ve been.”
Larkin and Waskiel were two of the many student-athletes at the protest who want the CIAC to reverse course and have the games played, minus huge crowds. The state believes crowds are the problem. Officials want gatherings of more than 100 people to be canceled.
Reggie Hatchett, who coaches Hartford’s Weaver High School boys basketball team, said he wants to protect his players, but he doesn’t think the coronavirus situation is as dire as officials say it is.
“A simple precaution like eliminating fans or reducing the fans would be a good enough measure to keep the kids safe,” Hatchett said. “There’s more than 100 people out here right now, so this rally is not safe, according to the people trying to make the rules.”
The number of people in Connecticut infected with the virus is expected to grow. A third case was identified in the state Wednesday, the first to be declared a case of community transmission, rather than being related to travel. Public health experts have said it is only a matter of time before there is widespread community transmission in the state.
Earlier this week, Gov. Ned Lamont declared a public health emergency.
Lungarini said that while empty-arena games were considered, the CIAC didn’t believe they were possible. For one, the state hockey playoffs were supposed to be held at Yale University, but Lungarini said Yale wasn’t going to allow hockey games at its rink. Also, after getting advice from the governor’s office and the state Department of Education, he said the association had to give “clear guidance.”
“If you have places that are going to allow 100 fans, some that aren’t going to allow any, some that are telling you you can’t play -- that certainly creates inconsistency, and we needed to provide clear direction,” Lungarini said.
Despite the protest, Lungarini said the CIAC stands by its decision to halt the winter championships.
As for the students, Waskiel said he and his teammates are focused on keeping their morale up post-cancellation. He said they’re still practicing.
“I just want to swim,” Waskiel said. “I just want to finish out my season.”
Spring sports are next, but games don’t start until the first week of April. Lungarini said the CIAC still plans to go forward with those games as scheduled.