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Before it even began, the wrestling season is over

It was lights out for the 2020-21 wrestling season in Connecticut on Thursday.

For high school wrestlers around Connecticut, it was a day of disappointment. The 2020-21 season that never began is over.

The Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s (CIAC) Board of Control released their winter sports plan for high school athletics during the COVID-19 pandemic and it did not include wrestling.

Wrestlers had hoped to compete during an alternative season, a 10-week block of time from February 22 through April 16. But wrestling and other sports classified as high risk, such as football, can’t even consider practicing until the winter season ends on March 28 thanks to an executive order from Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont in November.

The CIAC doesn’t want to encroach on the spring sports, which was eliminated entirely last spring when the coronavirus began sweeping across the nation in March.

There will be no wrestling or football competition at the high school this year in Connecticut.

“I feel terrible for the seniors, some who have been wrestling since elementary school and some that wanted to end their career on a high note,” said Fairfield Warde wrestling coach Jason Shaughnessy. “It is a shame that it has to end this way.”

Shaughnessy had one senior who had been on the team for three years on the junior varsity. He couldn’t quite break into the starting lineup before this year.

“You’ve taken a lot of kid’s hopes, dreams and goals and have tossed them out the window,” a quiet Simsbury High coach T.J. Silva said. “A lot of goals and dreams were crushed today because they won’t get a chance to compete.”

Silva has 10 seniors on this team that had come in second in the Class L championships for the past two seasons, losing by a half point and 2½ points, respectively. This was going to be their year.

Silva, who is also an assistant on Simsbury High’s football team, understands the reality of the situation. He went through it with the football team in the fall. At this point, he would be happy to hold a practice.

“Football had passing leagues and lineman’s challenges,” he said. “It wasn’t ideal but (the kids) had 10-to-12 weeks together with their coaches and friends.”

DPH guidelines allow for conditioning workouts in small groups and non-contact drills – which could be a challenge in a contact sport like wrestling.

The CIAC’s wrestling committee, which came up with many modifications to help make the sport safe, will be meeting on Friday to try and come up with ways to engage wrestling athletes this winter.

Wrestling is classified as high risk by the state and the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS).

Sports classified as moderate risk sports – such as basketball, ice hockey, gymnastics and indoor track – will be allowed by the CIAC with modifications, which would include all participants, coaches and officials wearing a mask.

Practice for those sports can begin on Tuesday, January 19 with the first games set for Monday, February 8. Indoor track can begin to practice but probably won’t compete until March when some outdoor events could be held.

The only state in New England allowing high school wrestling this winter is New Hampshire, whose teams will compete in up to 10 dual meets. Vermont cancelled wrestling for the year while Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island have shifted wrestling to the spring. In New York, the season is on an indefinite hold.

Glenn Lungarini, the CIAC’s executive director, said the Board of Control is committed to giving the athletes competing in spring sports an opportunity to play – something they didn’t get last spring. Adding football and wrestling would impact other sports.

“The priority of the Board (of Control) has been to maintain the spring season as much as we can without interruption,” he said. “Those kids lost their entire experience last year.”

Lungarini said 38 percent of football players and 31 percent of wrestlers compete in other spring sports.

“There could be multiple conflicts, especially at smaller schools,” he said.

The CIAC policy is for athletes to play just one sport per season.

Kevin Vigeant, a parent from Glastonbury, disagreed with the decision to eliminate the alternative season and not allow wrestling in the spring.

“This should not be a decision for the Board of Control. They are making the decision for the wrestlers. It should be (the athletes) decision to make,” Vigeant said. “They are taking that decision away from the wrestlers and that isn’t fair. Add wrestling to the spring season and give them a chance at a season.”

Vigeant emailed Lungarini and contacted Connecticut Wrestling Online, too.

“We certainly understand and empathize with those athletes that would have been able to compete,” Lungarini said. “What can’t be lost here is that we’re playing sports during a pandemic. We’re doing the best we can to provide safe experiences for kids.”

It will be the first season since the late 1950s that high school wrestling will not be held in the state. Greenwich, Hall and Conard are believed to be the first public high school teams in Connecticut. The first CIAC state tournament occurred in 1966.

The New England championship tournament, which dates back to 1965, was cancelled in October.

Wrestling isn’t happening at the prep school level either thanks to November’s executive order from Gov. Lamont.

The Founders League that includes prep schools Loomis-Chaffee in Windsor, Avon Old Farms, Hotchkiss School in Salisbury, Taft School in Watertown and Trinity-Pawling in Pawling, N.Y. cancelled competition in all winter sports in November, including wrestling.

Prep school wrestling goes back even farther. The Choate School in Wallingford won a New England championship in 1953 and 1955 while the Loomis Institute in Windsor, now called Loomis Chaffee, was second in 1954.

In 1936, the Kingswood School in West Hartford, now Kingswood-Oxford, had a team that faced Loomis, Taft, Choate and Kent, according to a brief Hartford Courant story in December 1935.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of Connecticut Wrestling Online. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 35 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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