‘Let Us Play’: Connecticut High School Football Players, Parents and Coaches Protest CIAC’s Decision to Cancel Full-Contact Football Games This Fall

September 6, 2020
Shawn McFarland
Hartford Courant

WEST HARTFORD — High school football players, coaches and parents from around the state gathered outside the West Hartford town hall on Sunday to protest the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s decision to cancel full-contact football games this fall.

Clad in masks and their respective team colors, the protestors voiced a unified and resounding message of “let us play.” But public health experts have yet to budge from their position—football is a high-risk activity that can’t be regulated as well as others amid the coronavirus pandemic and therefore shouldn’t be played at the scholastic level this fall.

The protest, which lasted an hour and began in West Hartford’s Blueback Square, was organized by players around the state on Saturday night, a day after the CIAC announced that a full-contact football season isn’t a viable option without support from the state Department of Public Health.

Representatives from communities as far as Fairfield County made the trip on Sunday morning to join the protest.

“It shows that this is a statewide issue, not just certain regions,” said Lewis Mills senior Josh Martinotti, who was one of the first players to post about the protest on social media Saturday night. “I believe all the schools here have done our best with masks and everything, and I just think we’ve earned it. I think they should realize that.”

The CIAC’s decision came after weeks of deliberating with the DPH. Girls volleyball, a moderate-risk indoor sport, was also deemed unsafe by the DPH, but the CIAC believes modifications, such as requiring the participants to wear masks while playing indoors, can bring it in line with the DPH’s recommendations.

“Without DPH support, the CIAC cannot move forward with a full-contact season as it would place superintendents and boards of education in the impossible position of acting against the recommendation of a state agency,” the CIAC said in a written statement on Friday.

All fall sports are presently allowed to condition in groups of 15, with team practices due to start on Sept. 21. Games begin on Oct. 1, and while football teams are restricted from holding games, they can still practice.

The CIAC was hoping to come to a joint agreement with the DPH regarding football, though the DPH reiterated that it was unlikely to change its stance on high-risk sports. The DPH did say that if certain modifications were put in place to lower the risk of football, such as a 7-on-7 format, it would consider approval. But the CIAC did not view the 7-on-7 option as a suitable replacement for 11-on-11, full-contact football.

After marching from Blueback Square to the town hall, the protestors stood on the steps and chanted, “Let us play.” Several students, parents and coaches stepped forward to address the crowd, and many cited the state’s COVID-19 metrics as favorable for playing football. States with worse numbers are being allowed to play, they said.

“I’ve been playing this sport since I was 5 years old,” said Owen Folkwein of Avon, who spoke in front of the crowd. “I want to have no regrets and leave it out on the field. I got as many teammates of mine as I could today, because the more mouths we have, the better it will be for our message to get spread across throughout the state, and hopefully Gov. Lamont will change his thoughts on this and let us play.”

Gov. Ned Lamont has largely deferred to the DPH on the matter of high school football. The DPH originally informed the CIAC of its guidance in early August and reaffirmed its recommendation last week prior to the CIAC’s decision. Parents and coaches urged players to email Gov. Lamont as well as the DPH. Marty Lisevick, the athletic director of Staples High in Westport, advised parents to contact their local legislators, Gov. Lamont and the DPH.

“Let us play” was the theme of the day at town hall in West Hartford as high school football players from around the state made a plea to play this season.

On Saturday, Connecticut Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz, who’s also the head football coach at Berlin High, posted on Facebook that members of the DPH and other state officials have received threats regarding the decision. He urged people to stop doing so, adding, “We cannot tolerate threatening people.”

“We want to see an opportunity for this to be reviewed again,” said Ruth Brigantti, a mother of a Farmington High football player. “I would like to see more parents involved, more contacting your legislator — the people that make these mandates, that make these laws. We should have an open communication with them. We’re so passionate right now, but we forget that they work for us.”

This was the second protest organized by football players in two weeks. Earlier this summer, when the CIAC paused fall sports activities as it awaited further guidance from the DPH, a smaller protest was held at the CIAC’s office in Cheshire, where the organization’s executive director Glenn Lungarini met with players.

Players are expected to hold another protest on Wednesday at noon in front of the Capitol in Hartford.

“Everybody that plays football knows this is a family sport. We’ve all got to have each other’s backs,” said Rockville senior Joe Kaminski. “I’m hoping they can make some new guidelines.”

NOTE: On Wednesday, September 9, health officials said Connecticut’s positive coronavirus test rate was 1.5%, among the lowest in the country. As of September 14, there are 17 states that have canceled or pushed fall football seasons into 2021 while 33 are already underway or planning to start soon.

Questions Using Close Reading and Critical Thinking:

  1. The first section of an article should answer the questions “Who?” “What?” “When?” and “Where?” Identify the four W’s of this article. NOTE: The rest of the article provides details on the why and/or how.
  2. Does this article have any bias? Why or why not?
  3. What are football players and their families across the state doing in response to the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference’s decision to cancel full-contact football games this fall? Examine the images and direct quotes in this article to identify the arguments they’re making.
  4. What recommendation did the Department of Public Health make for an alternative way to play this season? Why do you think this recommendation was not considered as a viable option?
  5. Why is the cancellation of the football season such a big deal to these players and their families? Think about seniors, college recruiting, and other possible reasons.
  6. What do you think? Consider the positive coronavirus test rate in Connecticut and trends across the country. Is the Connecticut Department of Public Health being unreasonable or is the fear of spreading the virus justified? Are the players being unreasonable or are their points valid? Share your perspective.
  7. Reflect on your own experience with masks and guidelines from the health organization or local government where you live. When and where do you wear masks? What rules do you follow? Under what situations or conditions (if any) is it difficult to wear a mask?

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