Players rally in West Hartford for a football season
WEST HARTFORD — Emotions were high and raw at a rally to try to save a high school football season in 2020-21, so high and raw that Brady Hutchison misspoke and twice yelled not to let common sense prevail.
The senior St. Joseph wide receiver caught himself, saying all he wants, at a time when other states are playing and Connecticut’s COVID-19 metrics are down — positive tests usually under 1 percent and hospitalizations under 100 across the state since early June, 58 as of Thursday night — is a chance.
“If there’s a spike in numbers, then we’ll have the conversation, shut it down, move it to the spring,” Hutchison said. “The message is please look at the numbers, look at the science and just give us an opportunity.”
“It was really heartbreaking, but now we’re all out here trying to get back up,” Amity junior Jackson Crainich said. “Hopefully the government and the Department of Public Health will hear our message and let it happen.”
The CIAC had earlier said that a season not played in the fall wouldn’t move to spring. Even before the announcement, coaches were working on convincing the CIAC to reverse course, or toward creating an intermediate season in the spring for football.
“I don’t really know how to explain it. At first, it didn’t seem real,” Torrington senior captain Kye Smith said.
“Coming here today, hearing other people’s perspectives, it’s helping me realize how I feel on the inside, that I wasn’t able to speak on. It’s emotional for me, too. I wouldn’t say I’m as outspoken as some others, but I feel it. It really hurts.”
The rally came together quickly, with players assembling at Blue Back Square, then walking up the steps and down the block to Town Hall. They rallied on the steps there, with speeches from players, coaches, parents and friends.
Speakers urged players and parents to contact Gov. Ned Lamont and legislators. Cars passed by honking horns in support. Players continued to trickle in; by the end, there appeared to be over 100.
Another rally is planned for noon on Wednesday at the Capitol in Hartford.
“I’ve got 15 guys (from St. Joseph) with me right now: There’s going to be about 80 on Wednesday, some coaches,” Hutchison said. “I think it’s going to be really good.”
Football is the CIAC’s only fall sport not on target to be played at the moment. Girls volleyball is moving ahead with players wearing masks.
The players at Sunday’s rally said they’d be willing to wear masks or face shields, and a letter — signed by 15 FCIAC football coaches and released by Fairfield Ludlowe coach Mitch Ross, a dermatologist — to Lamont, DPH and the CIAC offered the same.
The letter urged Lamont to overrule his DPH and let football go on in the fall. If that didn’t happen, or if the situation in the fall deteriorated and cut fall sports short, the coaches pushed for a spring season.
“We believe that by planning ahead and being flexible and fluid, this proposal gives all the student-athletes a chance to play in a meaningful season after years of preparation and hard work, while at the same time mitigating the risk of COVID transmission,” the letter said.
Players at Sunday’s rally represented a range of schools around the state. In Fairfield County, a group of players assembled for a brief video for social media, asking for “one more play.”
Connecticut was the first state to pull its teams out of athletic competition during the pandemic on March 10, and it was the last to cancel its spring season on May 5. Ever since, a fall season has been a moving target, or to borrow CIAC executive director Glenn Lungarini’s word, a “fluid” situation.
“They put us through this emotional roller coaster the whole summer. People hate getting up at 7 a.m. for conditioning; we were looking forward to it this year,” Hutchison said.
“We weren’t going to take anything for granted. They canceled the season, brought it back, postponed it: What are they doing? It hurts so bad. We’re going to keep fighting. I’m telling you, it’s not over.”