By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
High school sports are back. Well, sort of.
Naugatuck and Woodland last week began summer conditioning programs under strict guidelines as set by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference as state high schools start to prepare for what everyone hopes will be a fall sports season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
July 6 was the start of the CIAC’s Phase II resocialization plan, which allows for in-person contact among coaches and student-athletes in small groups. This is a step up from the Phase I plan, which sanctioned virtual coaching throughout June.
Under Phase II, which is expected to last until at least Aug. 2, coaches can conduct noncontact conditioning workouts with groups of no more than 10 student-athletes at a time. Workouts are limited to one hour up to three times a week, and student-athletes cannot mix groups until the end of the phase.
Coaches and student-athletes are screened using a COVID-19 checklist upon arriving at the outdoor-only workout sessions. Coaches must wear a mask during the entire session, and student-athletes who are not actively working out must wear a mask and maintain social distance.
Individual schools may have slightly varied details within the plan as the CIAC suggested each school develop a COVID-19 advisory board to ensure proper planning, use of personal protective equipment and compliance with the plan.
“The health and safety of our student-athletes and staff has been taken into consideration with every aspect of the plan,” Naugatuck athletic director Gianni Perugini said. “We have coach and student-athlete screenings before each training and PPE (for everyone involved). Also, our trainer is available full-time during each training session for all our student-athletes.”
Perugini said each of the Greyhounds’ fall teams is participating in conditioning program, which is being run by each team’s head coach.
At Woodland, conditioning is broken into two groups, roughly along gender lines. Football coach Chris Moffo runs the boys group at 6 a.m. and girls soccer assistant coach Jess Moffo operates the girls group at 9 a.m. Jess Moffo, who also coaches girls basketball, said athletic director Chris Decker has made the coaches feel comfortable with the ever-changing dynamic of the situation.
“Mr. Decker keeps everyone in the loop,” Jess Moffo said. “We had a fall coaches Google Meet about two weeks ago and he gave us all the regulations. He’s been giving us weekly updates, so it helps us as coaches. Every day, something’s changing, so he keeps us up to date.”
In its resocialization plan, the CIAC noted that a return to athletics is “essential to the physical, mental, and social-emotional well-being” of high school students, and the optional conditioning program is in place to facilitate a physical safe return to sports. March 9 was the last day of formal competition and practice for any athletes, and the CIAC explained that “prolonged inactivity can result in decreased cardiovascular function, decreased pulmonary function, muscle atrophy, and skill regression.”
Those factors, plus the addition of incoming freshmen, are all taken into account when designing the conditioning workouts in the early going.
“We have some incoming freshmen, so they’ve never done anything like this,” Jess Moffo said. “We’re trying to ease everyone back into it, not running anyone into the ground. We can only work out outside, no weights, no equipment — just body-weight stuff, trying to do some cardio and some strength. We’ll probably do the same workouts for two weeks and then we’ll go into more intense workouts.”
She added that the adjustment to the new normal requires vigilance and discipline among all involved.
“It’s totally outside the norm for us as coaches and for them as athletes,” Jess Moffo said. “Just getting them to stay 6 feet apart is hard. It’s an adjustment on our part and their part.”
If all goes well, Phase III will begin Aug. 3 and will allow for practices and competitions in what the CIAC has deemed to be low- and moderate-risk sports. In the fall, those include cross country, girls swimming, cheerleading and volleyball. Indoor events may include up to 25 people and outdoor events may include up to 50.
Football is deemed a high-risk sport, and according to the current plan, practices would not be able to start until at least Aug. 31. All plan dates are subject to change upon the CIAC’s and schools’ consultations with public health experts and the governor’s office.
Although the future is unknown and the situation seems like a different world than sports has ever known, Jess Moffo said everyone’s on board for one reason.
“We’ll do whatever they tell us to do,” she explained, “because we just want to be back.”