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CIAC to allow full contact drills in practice and coaches to instruct this spring

Hall’s Drew Currier, right, in the finals of the 2020 Greater Hartford Open championship in West Hartford.

With Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision last week to allow all youth, interscholastic and amateur sports to begin practicing and competing on Friday, March 19 and with positive guidance from the state Department of Health, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC)’s Board of Control voted on Wednesday for additional opportunities for high school wrestlers.

The Board of Control voted to allow wrestling teams to engage in full contact workouts, if their respective schools agree, for the remainder of the winter season, which concludes on March 26.

High school teams won’t be able to compete in dual meets but can stage joint practices with another school, if they wish to do so. Teams could hold six practices from March 19-26.

Wrestling coaches will also receive a one-time exemption this spring to coach their wrestlers outside of the normal winter season in non-school affiliated programs through May 28. That is similar to what the CIAC allowed spring coaches to do last summer after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire 2020 spring season.

The CIAC also released news about a proposal they are working on that would set up a series of week-long events called the Summer Series that would allow high school football and wrestling coaches to work with student athletes in June and July.

Due guidance from DPH and the CIAC, wrestling teams have only been allowed to conduct conditioning and non-contact drills due to the COVID-19 pandemic or shadow wrestling as one coach called it. The winter season for basketball, hockey, swimming and indoor track didn’t begin until January 19 and games didn’t begin until February 1.

“I think it is great. It is all I wanted,” Danbury High coach Ricky Shook said. “It’s really good we can bang around in the room for a week. They’ll get the chance to wrestle. It’s definitely better than nothing.”

Shook and his wrestlers will be working to get ready for two out-of-state tournaments. The National High School Coaches Association (NHSCA) is scheduled to host their annual national championship tournaments on April 23-25 in Virginia Beach, Va., for girls in grades 9-12 and boys in grades 6-12.

There is also a New England-wide tournament at an unknown location in southern New Hampshire in April 10-11. That tournament, which will have a maximum of 336 wrestlers, is sold out.

“I get to teach the kids for a week (in school) and then for a while at the club,” he said. The Danbury Youth Wrestling Association is an established youth wrestling club that has been feeding the high school program for years.

Nonnewaug coach David Green said that the schools with nearby youth wrestling clubs might have an advantage over those programs that don’t have a nearby club. Still, he saw the CIAC’s decisions as positive moves.

“They are giving us a chance to stay connected with our (wrestlers) which is what we hoped for,” he said.

Simsbury coach T.J. Silva was disappointed that the opportunity didn’t come sooner. “It’s a too little, too late. I think this is something we could have pushed through earlier. But we will evaluate (with the kids) and see where we go from here,” he said.

Until Gov. Lamont issued his decision to allow all sports to resume practice and competition beginning on March 19, there had been no indication from the Department of Health to allow wrestling to do anything outside of conditioning and non-contact drills.

In their guidance last week, the DPH did recommend some protocols to help keep wrestlers and their coaches healthy and to minimize spread of the COVID-19 virus.

DPH recommends that wrestlers wear masks at all times. For practice, DPH recommends setting up groups or cohorts of athletes to minimize the number of students that may have to quarantine in the event of a positive COVID-19 test from an athlete or coach.

DPH also recommends that wrestlers and their families receive enhanced education and communication regarding the risks associated with COVID-19, the increased potential for spread of potentially infectious respiratory droplets among athletes wrestling and acknowledgement of the safety risks that may be associated with the mitigation strategies.

“These are opportunities being afforded to our wrestlers and coaches due the hardship in this regular season,” said Dan Scavone, a CIAC executive staff member and the staff liaison to the CIAC’s wrestling committee. “I think it will be well received. And the Summer Series proposal is a new venture for the CIAC that is unprecedented.”

In terms of the Summer Series initiative, the CIAC is working out the details. The CIAC’s out-of-season subcommittee will continue to work on the proposal that still needs to be approved.

The Summer Series will take place at regional host sites with a minimum of four teams per location for one week. There would 2½ hours of instruction, 30 minutes a day dedicated to in-person leadership and sportsmanship skill building and two hours a day dedicated to individual skill development and team play.

The Summer Series will be operated by the CIAC and run independently of its member schools. All organization, insurance, staffing, programming, and oversight will be managed through the CIAC.

“Initially, this was planned for football but with no competitive season (for wrestling), it was decided to include wrestling, too,” Scavone said.

The CIAC is not sponsoring football or wrestling this spring. The CIAC’s Board of Control does not want to impact the spring sports since the entire spring season in 2020 was cancelled as the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the country last March.

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 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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