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For now, high school football players continue to practice, learn and prepare – The Collinsville Press
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For now, high school football players continue to practice, learn and prepare

Players in Simsbury practice on Friday behind the high school. (Photo courtesy Simsbury Gridiron Club)

Each afternoon, the players trot out to the practice field. These football players spread out and stay in their groups to maintain social distancing as they have throughout the summer.

They condition. They drill. They practice the fundamentals of the game.

They do this without the guarantee of playing a game this fall. The contagious COVID-19 coronavirus has swept across the country, infecting millions of Americans and resulting in the deaths of nearly 200,000 Americans.

In some states, they play. In others, they have delayed football until the spring when there is hope that the pandemic will have eased, a vaccine may be available or we may have developed additional treatments to treat this virus.

In Simsbury, practice is every day after school – Monday through Friday.

“We are pretty unsure how things will end up,” Simsbury head coach Dave Masters said last Thursday in Hartford at a rally in support of allowing football to be played in Connecticut this fall. “Will we go in the spring or have something come up in the fall? So, we just keep grinding.”

Simsbury is coming off a 10-2 season in 2019 – a campaign that saw the Trojans win their first-ever CIAC playoff game and advance to the Class LL semifinals where they lost to eventual state champion Newtown.

Masters had an enthusiastic bunch of players that worked out early in the morning through the spring and summer to prepare for this season.

We’re trying to stay engaged because you don’t know (what will happen),” Masters said. “You just have to prepare. Until they say the season is done and don’t practice anymore, we owe it to the kids (to practice, teach and prepare) and try to push through it.”

An estimated 1,200 players, coaches, parents and supporters were in Hartford last week at the state capitol grounds to rally support for playing football this fall. There was a smaller rally a few days earlier in West Hartford. Both rallies were organized by students, who used social media to get their peers to attend.

A frequent thought from the players is the frustration that they followed the rules this summer to observe social distance, wore a mask, avoided large gatherings and stayed healthy to be able to play. Yet, there may be no game for them to play this fall.

“We sacrificed this summer so we would have a chance to play this fall,” Simsbury’s Sam Scott said. “It is a cliché to say (football) is more than a sport but it really is. It brings us all together and will all of the division and bad stuff in the world right now, this really brings us together.”

Other sports are making adjustments, too. Girls volleyball will probably be allowed if the players wear masks. The number of players on the field for field hockey will be reduced from 11 on each team to seven. Girls swimming may have virtual meets and other adjustments to ensure teams stay together and don’t get too close to each other.

For now, football players, coaches and parents anxiously wait. In a meeting with the Connecticut Department of Health on Friday, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) made some additional proposals to play football safely this fall.

Concerned with spreading the virus, the Department of Health recommended that schools play 7-on-7 football which removes linemen from the contest. It is a proposal few football players and coaches have warmed up to.

Scholastic governing organizations in New York, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island have voted to play football next spring. New Hampshire is the only New England state currently planning to play 11 vs 11 this fall. Vermont will play 7-on-7.

Even if the CIAC approves a proposal to play football this fall, local schools could opt out. The school administration in Bridgeport has already said city schools won’t play football games. In New Haven, the local health department said they wouldn’t allow city schools to play football games, either.

Simsbury High has been playing football since the early part of the 20th century — 1908. But Simsbury didn’t play in 1918 when the flu pandemic swept across the United States and didn’t play for four seasons during World War II (1942-45). they’ve played each year since 1946 and hope to continue that this fall.

The CIAC presented their plan to the Department of Health on Friday.

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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