Glimmer of hope for spring season fading

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

The door on high school spring sports isn’t completely shut yet, but the ray of hope is dimming as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

The CIAC announced April 23 the cancellation of its spring championships and added that any possible spring sports season will be limited to the month of June, eliminating the previously floated possibility of playing into July.

With the state’s schools closed until at least May 20 — and according to guidance provided at the state’s daily press conference April 23, likely longer than that — the hopes of anything but a ceremonial effort to get in a few games are gradually fizzling.

“I feel sorry for some of these kids that they can’t put on the Garnet and Grey or the Black and Gold,” Naugatuck softball coach Kevin Wesche said. “They’ve worked hard for this.”

Wesche knew ahead of time that the cancellation of state tournaments was coming since he is a member of the CIAC softball committee, but he is encouraged by the fact that the organization hasn’t yet slammed the door on at least some spring competition.

In fact, he indicated that the Naugatuck Valley League’s athletic directors continue to discuss a contingency plan that would allow for a shortened league-only season through the end of June.

“The exciting news is that they’re not looking at shutting down,” Wesche said. “I’m glad to see our leaders and our ADs are looking at the possibilities of what they can do. They’re not putting it on the backburner, and I think that’s exciting to know. They’ve got the kids’ backs.”

All options would likely be on the table if schools were allowed to get back in session for a shortened period in early June. Doubleheaders, weekend tournaments and division-only play are among the choices that have been floated, but they all depend on forthcoming decisions by Gov. Ned Lamont.

“If it is determined that school buildings will remain closed … through the end of the 2019-2020 school year, then the CIAC will cancel all spring sport experiences,” the CIAC noted in a news release.

Some people, such as Woodland baseball coach Mike Kingsley, see the writing on the wall and find it hard to envision any path forward to a spring sports season. With that in mind, he met with his senior players in Woodland’s parking lot earlier this month to share some memories and future plans.

“As much as they’re disappointed, they’re thankful for what they have,” said Kingsley, who noted that everyone stayed close to their vehicles and maintained social distance. “A couple of the guys said, ‘At least we got to enjoy a 20-win season last year.’ They never cease to amaze me. I said a long time ago when George (Pinho) passed, the kids don’t get enough credit for how compassionate they are.”

Wesche said that type of conversation is “a bridge I hope I don’t have to cross,” but he is wistful for his senior players and juniors who were relying on this season to get important exposure for colleges. Just in case there is a shortened season, he said he’s encouraged his players to stay active.

“As a coach, you can’t be involved in too much other than being positive and keeping them in the loop,” Wesche said. “I try to send them some positive quotes and positive stories. Hopefully they’re doing something to stay in shape, whether it’s running, taking swings or doing soft toss in the garage.”

Naugatuck senior tennis player Jay Mezzo, who won the 2019 NVL No. 1 doubles title with Jared Montini, said he hadn’t picked up a racquet in about five months after playing football and basketball.

“Tennis is a sport where you never forget the skills and after a couple of practices, I’d get the hang of it again, and once I play a match, I would be OK. … It’s been tough to lose my senior year, but the most important thing is to make sure everyone is healthy and the best thing is for people to stay inside.”

Woodland track and field standout Alek Tolboe said, “Everyone is in anticipation of their senior year to take more of a leadership role and to not be able to do that is really unfortunate. Anything we get in terms of meets would be great. If not, I respect the CIAC decision. But if they let us play, please let us play.”

As much as Kingsley wants there to be some type of baseball season — “I’m up for anything,” he said — he acknowledged that the memories his seniors are in danger of missing would trump hardball.

“I’d rather see them be able to go back for two weeks and have proms, walk at graduation, and have their fun with their classmates than play seven games of baseball,” Kingsley said. “I’m disappointed I don’t get to spend another year with them.”

The Republican-American’s Mark Jaffee contributed to this report.