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Cancellation of football is a bitter pill for high school teams – The Collinsville Press
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Cancellation of football is a bitter pill for high school teams

The Farmington High football line up for a game last fall. (Jack Mihalek photo courtesy Farmington High football)

On this bright, sunny, 70-degree afternoon, it was picture day for the Farmington High football team. The kids would be in maroon, white and grey trimmed uniforms and have their photos taken for the game program and the anticipation of football clashes in the coming weeks ahead.

Any smiles in the photos snapped on Friday afternoon were a bit forced.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) said Friday that it would not support member play football games this fall due to the threat of spreading the contagious COVID-19 coronavirus that cut last year’s high school basketball season short during the state tournament and eliminated the entire spring sports schedule.

The CIAC’s Board of Control determined that full contact football is no longer a viable option this fall. In a letter to the CIAC earlier this week, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) said that it is “unlikely to support higher risk activities for the fall term.”

Football teams have been working out in a limited basis throughout the summer. In August, they’ve been working out in groups or cohorts of 10 players each for an hour with 30 minutes of conditioning and 30 minutes of skill work while remaining socially distanced.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow for the coaches and players preparing to play the sport they love.

“We are incredibly upset that the 2020 Bears are not able to compete 11 on 11 this year,” Granby/Canton head coach Erik Shortell said in a statement posted on Twitter. “We felt like we had a team that surely would have made both Granby and Canton very proud both on and off the field. Our hearts are broken for the nine seniors. It wasn’t supposed to end this way for you.”

“I don’t love it,” Farmington High coach Chris Machol said. “There are people that know far more than me (making these decisions). I am proud to be in a state that took (the COVID-19 pandemic) seriously.

“Our (COVID) numbers (as a state) look pretty good. We asked our student athletes and communities to make sacrifices all summer with the hope that we could progress to play games,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”

The Indians were optimistic about the season with 15 seniors and nearly 70 players out for preseason workouts. But for now, there are no games on the horizon.

The CIAC football committee voted in early August to play football in the spring but the CIAC’s Board of Control wanted to try and play football this fall. Glenn Lungarini, executive director of the CIAC, told The Ruden Report that the CIAC felt it was unlikely that the COVID metrics would any better in the spring than they are right now which is why they wanted to try and play in the fall.

It is the first statewide cancellation of football since the CIAC was formed in 1921. Many teams, including Simsbury and Canton, cancelled football during World War II but some played on.

Even with the CIAC’s decision, coaches are planning to keep coaching.

“The games are gone but the team remains,” Machol said. “This doesn’t end the team. We will be fighting to do as many things as we can as a team. I don’t want to speculate on what we can do. But I don’t see regressing from where we are right now practicing skills and fundamentals.”

Shortell said, “We will still practice. We’ll be back at it next week. There won’t be any games but we certainly won’t let this stop us from getting better. Hopefully, there will be some spring football. We’re all here for the kids. To see 16, 17 and 18-year-old bawling their eyes out breaks your heart.”

Lungarini said the CIAC would remain “fluid” as they work with athletic directors, coaches and medical experts to provide players with meaningful low to moderate risk fall activities.

Connecticut is 17th state to cancel football in the fall.

In New England, Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts won’t be playing traditional 11 vs. 11 football this fall. Vermont is going to play a version of 7-on-7 while Rhode Island and Massachusetts hope to play in the spring. In New Hampshire, 54 of the state’s 58 programs have indicated they will play football this fall. Four have said no, according to the website New Hampshire Football Report.

In July, the Founders League, which includes Avon Old Farms and Westminister in Simsbury, announced they would not hold athletic competition in any sport this fall due to the pandemic.

CIAC statement on Friday, Sept. 1 about football and girls volleyball

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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