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Thanks to the pandemic, no one will forget 2020 – The Collinsville Press
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Thanks to the pandemic, no one will forget 2020

The mulit-purpose field at Canton High was quiet throughout the spring with the cancellation of sports and the moving of school to distance learning due to the COVID-09 pandemic.

It was the year of hard change, sorrow and pain. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has turned our world upside down. Things that we took for granted just nine months ago are a bad idea today due to the contagious virus that can kill.

When we look back at this year, it will be the pandemic that is a part of every story – even those stories that took place before the virus swept across our nation in March. We will look back and say, we did that?

As we look back at the biggest stories at the Collinsville Press in 2020, the pandemic is our No. 1 story of the year. What else could it be?

The arrival of the contagious COVID-19 coronavirus stopped the winter sports season cold in early March. The CIAC boys basketball tournament had just begun and the CIAC girls basketball tournament was a week old. The wrestling community was able to finish their season but ice hockey and boys swimming had no championship events to conclude their seasons.

Many winter athletes never had the chance to finish their seasons but at least they played some games. Conference championships and conference tournaments were decided on the hardcourt, the ice, the mat and in the pool.

The entire spring sports season was eliminated and the remainder of the school year in Connecticut was conducted remotely – a daunting task for educators and students who scrambled with no notice to make it work.

It had been more than 100 years since a pandemic of such a virulent strain that was so contagious and deadly had swept across the world.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and governors across the country shut down their states in March, limiting the number of businesses that could be open. The virus hit New York and the northeast region hard, resulting in hundreds and hundreds of deaths.

The virus surfaced in Wuhan, China at the end of 2019 and quickly moved across the world. Nearly nine months later, we have a better idea of how to try and minimize the spread of the virus.

Wearing masks, social distancing, washing your hands and staying out of large groups help – although many Americans, tired of the restrictions, ignored these guidelines over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays resulting in spikes of COVID-19 infections across the country.

In the spring, though, the athletic fields were quiet and traffic was lighter throughout the community. On one sunny morning in late April, we found a father and son playing baseball at Buckingham Field. Weeds were growing in the infield dirt and the father hit fly balls to his son in the outfield.

But before we left, the son asked us not to use any photos of their few hours together under the sun. After all, the fields were technically closed.

The Canton High softball field sits quietly last May. There was no spring season.

Sports slowly came back as we learned how to live with the virus.

American Legion baseball cancelled their season but a group of determined coaches organized the Connecticut Elite Baseball League to provide players ages 13-19 a chance to play baseball. It was a shortened season and there were plenty of COVID-protocols to follow but the kids got a chance to play.

The Connecticut Collegiate Baseball League, run by Simsbury’s Tim Vincent, played their season, too. Area Little League organizations had shortened seasons in June and July and some even played in a pandemic-shortened state tournament in late August.

Nationally, the WNBA played in a self-sustaining bubble in Florida while the NBA did the same. The NHL played in two bubbles in Canada. The PGA Tour resumed action without fans and the Travelers’ Championship was held in June in Cromwell – one of the first tournaments since the pandemic began.

As Connecticut learned how to live with the virus, the state allowed a limited number of fans to attend sporting events outside and the Hartford Athletic earned a United Soccer League Championship playoff berth for the first time at Dillon Stadium in Hartford before a few thousand socially distanced fans wearing masks.

When school began in the fall, sports were allowed on a limited basis. School administrators were hesitant to allow sports, afraid that exposure of the virus to athletes would spread COVID-19 in the schools and spoil their plans to get students and teachers back into buildings for face-to-face learning opportunities.

Based on guidance from the state Department of Health, most sports were allowed with conditions. Schedules were limited and competition was restricted to regional opponents. Girls volleyball players had to wear masks to compete and large cross country invitational meets were nixed. Only dual meets were allowed. State tournaments in all sports were cancelled.

Still, the opportunity to play wasn’t lost on the players or coaches.

“We are blessed that we have a season,” Avon High field hockey coach Terri Ziemnicki said. “I am blessed in how our team has come together. I am blessed that field hockey is still playing. We’ve endured a lot of adversity as have all of the other schools when it comes to COVID. We’re just grateful.”

Spectators were limited at most schools to local parents and family members. But some schools allowed no fans at all. Masks were mandatory to be on campus and athletes were required to wear masks when they were off the field.

Led by captains from Lewis Mills, players from across Connecticut rallied in West Hartford to save the high school football season.

High school football was cancelled. Limited practices with no hitting and socially-distanced skill work was allowed but that was it. Parents of the football players and the players complained bitterly and held several large rallies (Hartford, West Hartford) pleading their case.

The CIAC moved a potential football season into an eight-week window beginning in March and running into April but it will depend on COVID conditions at the time.

In mid-November, the start of winter sports was delayed eight weeks by the CIAC. Practice might be allowed to begin in mid-January if the sports can meet COVID-19 safety protocols set by the state Department of Health. Games might not begin until February.

It’s a story that isn’t over and won’t be for a long while.

Other top 10 stories we covered in 2020.


The Warriors celebrate after Jack Rose pulled down a crucial rebound in the fourth quarter of Canton’s win over Granby in the NCCC Tournament championship game.

2. Canton boys basketball team beats Granby to win first NCCC Tournament title

Nine months later, it seems like a distant memory. Canton’s game with Granby for the NCCC Tournament championship in late February was played in front of a packed gym in Canton with hundreds of fans loudly rooting for their team.

“It was amazing,” Granby coach Walter Hansen said. “I couldn’t wait to get here because I knew all four sets of bleachers would be out. I knew it would be loud, intense and fans were on top of us. No could hear me but this is what it is about. This is what you try to get to in the post season.”

And they saw a wildly entertaining contest. Granby cut Canton’s lead to two points with 43.8 seconds remaining but the Warriors sank five of eight free throws in the final 22.8 seconds to lift Canton to a 56-49 victory and their first-ever conference tournament title.

The Warriors (21-2) were disappointed that the CIAC Division IV tournament was postponed. Canton earned the No. 1 seed for the first time in school history and had high hopes of perhaps winning the first state title in boys basketball since 1978.

Ironically, the Warriors cut down the nets together after the game — a fortunate decision with what was coming in the next few days.

Collinsville Press, March 6: Canton outlasts Granby for historic conference championship win


Avon’s Chris Gens gets ready for the start of his semifinal match in the New England tournament against Maine champion Jeffrey Worster.

3. Avon High wrestler Chris Gens wins State Open title, takes third in New England

It was a warm Sunday afternoon in Meuthen, Mass., where the New England wrestling championships were being held in a gym that was clearly too small to accommodate hundreds of wrestlers, coaches and fans. But that is where the tournament was being hosted.

The previous day, the gym was overflowing with people. On this Sunday, there was room but it hot and sweaty with the best high school wrestlers in New England competing for a championship.

A week earlier, Avon’s Chris Gens won a State Open championship at 220 pounds to become the first Falcon to win an Open championship in 13 years since 2007.

Gens couldn’t stop smiling after his 3-0 win over Danbury’s DJ Donovan in the championship match. Head coach John McLaughlin was grinning ear to ear but joked that he would have to get Gens to refocus for the New England championships the following weekend.

McLaughlin never got that chance. Gens missed four days of school leading up to the New England tournament with the flu. He got himself to school on Friday so he would be eligible to compete and got through a workout. “I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to wrestle,” Gens said.

At the tournament, Gens (47-1) won a pair of matches in overtime, including a quarterfinal victory over Rhode Island champion Cam Bailey of Bishop Hendricken and finished third in the New England championships.

Collinsville Press, March 13: Despite little preparation, Avon’s Chris Gens finishes third in New England


Canton’s Chelsea Mitchell won the third State Open championship of her career by taking the 55 meters at the 2020 State Open meet in New Haven. (Photo courtesy MySportsResults.com)

4. Canton’s Chelsea Mitchell wins State Open title in 55 meters, All-New England honors in two events 

Her career in a Canton High uniform ended sooner than she anticipated with the cancellation of the spring track and field season, but highly-decorated senior Chelsea Mitchell earned All-New England honors in two events at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Boston.

Mitchell finished second in the long jump behind Connecticut champion Tess Stapleton of Fairfield Ludlowe and was third in the 55 meters – the best-ever finishes for a Canton girl at the indoor track New England championships.

At the New England championships, Mitchell engaged in another duel with Stapleton in the long jump. For the second consecutive week, Stapleton took the lead late in the event to earn a victory with a big jump.

A week earlier, Mitchell won a State Open title in the 55 meters with a winning time of 7.15 seconds. Mitchell finished second in the long jump behind Stapleton and was fourth in the 300 meters.

Collinsville Press, March 5: Mitchell earns All-New England honors in two events


Avon’s Jack Martin became the first Falcon to win a New England track and field championship Saturday by taking the mile race. (Photo courtesy Courtney Fusco)

5. Avon’s Jack Martin wins State Open and New England titles

Avon High sophomore Jack Martin became the first runner in school history to win a New England championship in indoor track and field by taking the one-mile race at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center in Boston on the final day of February. Martin, who was seventh at one point, won the race by 1.64 seconds with a strong surge in the final 400 meters of the race.

A week earlier, Martin again came from behind to win the 1,600 meters at the State Open with a season-best time of 4:19.16. He became the first Avon High athletes to win a State Open title in indoor track and field.

Collinsville Press, March 2: Jack Martin wins New England championship in the mile


Canton senior Ty Aleksa is the third CHS soccer player to earn All-American honors and the first since 2003.

6. Canton’s Ty Aleksa earns All-American honors in soccer

Canton senior Ty Aleksa became just the third player in school history to earn All-American honors in soccer. Aleksa scored 24 goals in his career, including 10 goals each in his junior and senior years. But he also set up many of his teammates to score and helped his team win as the Warriors captured 34 games in the last three years – the most since Canton won 37 matches in 2001-03.

Aleksa is the first soccer All-American since Karl Schilling, who was named to the Parade Magazine All-American team following the 2003 season when Canton won the Class S championship. Schilling went on to play at UConn in college.

Collinsville Press, Dec. 15: Canton’s Ty Aleksa earns All-American honors in soccer


Most of the Native American imagery once used as part of the Warrior logo at Canton High is gone. Two feathers at the base of the letter C, as shown in the large wall banner, is in the gym and on some athletic uniforms.

7. Canton Board of Education votes to establish committee to review Warrior mascot

In August the Board of Education voted unanimously to establish a committee to review the Warrior mascot and the use of native American imagery. The initial plan was for the 17-person committee was supposed to meet and develop recommendations this fall but it did not happen.

A number of Connecticut schools are re-examining their mascots and Native American imagery used with those mascots. For the last 70 years, Canton’s mascot has been the Warriors and Native American imagery has been prominent at times.

The Warrior mascot was last reviewed in 2006 when a committee was formed to examine the mascot and research its history. The committee recommended that a revised Native American symbol be used in order to “preserve and maintain the dignity of Native Americans” according to Board of Education minutes in 2006.

Over the past decade, the school has quietly been removing native American imagery regarding the Warrior logo.

Collinsville Press, Aug. 13: Canton BOE creates committee to review Warrior mascot


Canton junior Chelsea Mitchell leads Bloomfield’s Terry Miller and Cromwell’s Andraya Yearwood in the finals of the 100 meters at the 2019 Class S championship meet in New Britain.

8. U.S. Dept. of Education office finding says six schools, including Canton, violated Title IX regulations

Canton High senior Chelsea Mitchell was one of three high school athletes who filed a federal suit claiming that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s (CIAC) policy to allow transgender students to compete in girls sports was a violation of Title IX, the landmark 1972 law that requires public schools to provide girls and boys with equitable sports opportunities.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights agreed. They released a finding in May that said that the CIAC and six school districts, including Canton, have violated Title IX by allowing transgender athletes to compete in girls track and field events over the last three years.

Twenty-eight federal legislators have signed a letter to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) criticizing them for their finding that the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC)’s policy regarding transgender athletes violates Title IX regulations and the OCR’s threatened to withhold federal aid from six Connecticut school districts.

Collinsville Press, May 30: Department of Education said CIAC policy violates Title IX


For years, Avon used portable generators to generate light for night games at Avon High.

9. Lights at high school field approved by the Town Council

In November, Avon’s Board of Finance approved a proposal Monday night to spend $235,000 toward in the installation of light poles and lights around the new synthetic turf field at Avon High School. The Town Council also approved a similar measure a week earlier.

ACORN (Avon Community Recreation Neighborhood), a non-profit community organization dedicated to investing in resources to enhance recreation in Avon, raised more than $140,000 toward the lights project and will need to raise another $15,000 through its Lights on Avon campaign.

In December 2018, town voters approved in a referendum the construction of a $2.99 million eight-land track and field complex and synthetic turf field outside of Avon High. Lights to illuminate the playing field were not included in the proposal but work to install conduit and light pole fixtures was included as part of the project.

Collinsville Press, Nov. 28: Board of Finance, Town Council approve proposal to install lights at Avon High


Avon’s Madison Kennedy, second on the left, was one of the captains for the D.C. Trident this fall.

10. Avon’s Madison Kennedy swims in ISL bubble for D.C. Trident

During the summer, the NBA and WNBA completed their 2020 seasons in isolated bubbles in Florida to minimize the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus and protect the health of the players, coaches and league officials.

The International Swimming League organized a bubble of their own to conduct their second season in October and November. The 10-team, professional swimming league hosted more than 350 athletes on a 238-acre island in the middle of the Danube River in Budapest, Hungary for six weeks.

For the second straight season, Avon native Madison Kennedy swam with the Washington, D.C.-based D.C. Trident team and served as captain of the Trident’s women’s squad. Each team consists of 16 men and 16 women with 12 men and 12 women selected to compete in the four-team meets.

Kennedy, a sprint specialist, swam in all four meets for D.C. Trident in a variety of races – 50 meter freestyle, 100 meter freestyle, 4×100 mixed relay, the 4×100 women’s freestyle relay and the 4×100 women’s medley relay. Her best time in the 50 free was 24.47 seconds and a time of 53.51 seconds in the 100 meters. D.C. Trident went 1-15 in four four-team meets and finished ninth among the 10 teams.

Collinsville Press, Oct. 18: Avon native Madison Kennedy swimming with DC Trident for year two in ISL


Allison Celmer scored a game-high 14 points as No. 2 Canton beat Windham on Thursday night to advance to the Class M quarterfinals. (Photo courtesy Paul Amrose)

11. Canton girls win third straight NCCC Tournament title

Playing without their two-time All-State guard Abby Charron, the Canton High girls basketball won the NCCC Tournament for the second straight year with a 46-32 win over Suffield.Senior Allison Celmer had a game-high 20 points, seven rebounds and three steals to lead the Warriors (21-2) while junior Paige Brown added eight points. Freshman Sophia Mates had six points and seven rebounds as Canton captured back-to-back NCCC Tournament titles for the first time.

The Warriors opened play in the Class M tournament for the first time since 1975 and won their first two games. A third game was halted at halftime due to a power outage and thanks to the pandemic was never resumed.

Collinsville Press, Feb. 27: Celmer helps Canton beat Suffield for 2nd straight NCCC Tournament title

 


The top 10 stories as selected by the readers with the most clicks as provided by Google analytics

Jan. 19: Canton’s Kaley Pasko earns women’s rifle scholarship to Nebraska

May 16: Soon to be Avon High graduates saluted in car parade

May 30: Department of Education said CIAC policy violates Title IX

Jan. 14: Avon’s Riley Strassner wins 2019 NCAA Division I title with Georgetown men’s soccer team

Oct. 5: Former  Avon High All-State guard, Ryan Rogers, passes away

March 6: Canton outlasts Granby for historic conference championship win

June 11: Five Simsbury linebackers set to play football in college

April 5: Six Avon High athletes earn All-State honors

June 24: Five golfers withdraw from Travelers Championship due to COVID-19 concerns

Jan. 25: Jack Hall helps lead the Avon boys basketball team past rival Farmington

It seems like another lifetime but it was just nine months ago that the high school gym in Canton was packed for the championship game of the NCCC Tournament in boys basketball. Within 10 days, schools were closed for the remainder of the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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