I walked out of Classical Magnet High School on March 9 with my wife and son in the midst of an almost giddy Thomaston High fan base. Coach A.J. Bunel’s boys’ team had just won its first state tournament game in 25 years and done it stunning fashion turning a 16-point third-quarter deficit into a 76-69 victory over SMSA. There was an electrified satisfaction and while No. 3 Valley Regional was next on the list, this was a night that hadn’t been experienced in a long, long time and a feeling that had thought been extinct.
In fact, Golden Bear basketball life was in one of those special zones that only state tournament success can produce. A kind of wonderful nervous, edgy exhilaration. Coach Bob McMahon’s young girls team was set to play in the Class S quarterfinals against a very good but beatable Putnam team. McMahon’s program knows something about Mohegan Sun and you could feel the possibility hovering in the background.
Three days later it was all gone. Hope and promise permanently on hold reduced to a lifetime `what if’ and `I wonder’. Tournament brackets were akin to a house where somebody went for the morning paper with breakfast still on the table and never returned and sit there today half filled an almost eerie testament to never to be completed. A Twilight Zone time stands still episode.
Hopes and dreams gave way to masks and elbow bumps, social distancing, and hand sanitizer. Not to mention fear, anger, on-line learning, and stay-at-home workers. The coronavirus bullied its way in and our world changed on Mar. 13. Schools closed, sports were canceled on all levels, businesses shut their doors, stay-at-home became the mantra and practice.
So where are we a little more than five months later? In the big picture better. We have seen the return of professional sports with major adaptations like no fans and playing in bubbles. Some recreational leagues got going this summer. Schools are going to try to give it a go under vastly different conditions. Businesses have slowly reopened. Steps forward, sometimes with two steps back. But, steps nevertheless.
As for the high school athlete? Who knows. They have been given an erratic set of signals that seems to change daily. The CIAC says go, the state Department of Public Health says, “Whoa, let’s talk about this.” The immediate future is shrouded in agency smog still to be settled.
After being suspended Aug. 17, summer conditioning was reinstated Sunday night. But there is no idea if there will be a season or if it will be pushed to next year. It is a decision fraught with no answer and no right answer when the state and CIAC poohbahs get together and come to an agreement.
There appears to be no majority sentiment whatever the final decision. Many, coaches, athletic directors, and players want to play others do not. Nonnewaug has already canceled all fall sports and Bridgeport had canceled football and volleyball, two sports signaled out as high risk by the Department of Health.
Parents are both fearful and hopeful. The media is divided. Two of the state’s high profiles columnists Mike Anthony of the Hartford Courant and Jeff Jacobs of Hearst Media have both come against playing football, Anthony Calling the CIAC decision to play last week, “shocking and shameful.’ Anthony has come out for pushing all sports to 2021. Meanwhile, Republican American executive sports editor Lee Lewis has called the CIAC decision to play last week a good move for now.
A group of students protested at CIAC headquarters last week, expressing their desire to play. Unofficial captain’s practices and voluntary individual workouts are in vogue as summer wanes and student-athletes look for resolution to contradictory message.
There is a large complexity to all of this involving a multitude of invested parties – school administrators, Boards of Education, the CIAC, the Department of Public Health, parents, and most importantly the student athletes. There is a rock and a hard place quality to it all. There will be no universal approval of any decision.
So where are we five months later? Confused, hopeful, fearful, frustrated. No season, short seasons, some seasons with some sports pushed to the spring? We need to make a decision. At this point, students are being treated like ping-pong ball. We‘re going to play, no we’re delaying, wait a minute we need to talk more.
We can toss around a final decision and believe me, there will be a lot of tossing. But before that, we need a decision. Where are we five months later? Spinning a lot of wheels in the sand.