In the wake of what feels like a crushing defeat for high school football players lies an opportunity that should be embraced with the gusto they took to a let-us-play crusade in recent weeks.
Fall football is likely off. This twisted saga is coming to an end. With 2020 creeping toward 2021 and the same pandemic problems dictating the viability of traditional opportunity, this has been a cruel period in ways we’d never want or expect the children of our state to experience.
But maybe, in some ways, players will be better off for it all and through it all because, always and today in particular, life is about improvising and adapting. Life is about bouncing back and getting creative in the face of setback. Life is about what is possible more so than what is impossible, and fall football being deemed impossible does not prohibit Class of 2021 players from turning this chapter of their lives into something fulfilling.
They can. They will. We should know that because we’ve already seen such passion from our young people.
Thousands showed up at the State Capitol and gathered elsewhere, too, making their collective voice heard, all these teams becoming one team in an effort to persuade officials to allow them to play a sport so important to their educational and teenage existence. Social media campaigns began and were sustained. Petitions were developed and goals were met. Questions were asked and answers were demanded.
It was impressive, kids becoming adults before our eyes. It was the type of organization, confidence and leadership that sports participation breeds, and their motivated focus on this specific cause can and should apply to most anything else they encounter. Forever.
It was ultimately misguided, too, because the stated opinion of public health experts is not something that should be swayed by emotional cheerleading. Sharing a field the way football requires doesn’t make sense in 2020 and, like so much else, that fact is unfair but undeniable. A Maloney-Meriden player tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to sources. And state metrics, while still encouraging, are starting to trend in the wrong direction.
Still, the high school football community has never looked and felt more united. Through confusion, through the mud of indecision that was not their own, through false hope, through what became an irresponsible battle more to do with the political arena than any playing field, the sport has emerged in a better place in 2020 than it was in 2019 or any year before — even without games to be played, for now.
The exploration of a somewhat traditional season was beaten back on Monday, when the state Department of Public Health once again labeled football as a high-risk activity in another letter to the CIAC and Gov. Ned Lamont called for the season to be postponed until early 2021.
The CIAC still has the final call, with Lamont unwilling to officially pull the plug, but the state’s governing body of high school sports should finally fall in line with state health experts in a vote this week that will allow everyone invested to move on.
It is time for the CIAC and coaches — from House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz on down through those without political sway — to turn the page. It’s time to do what should have been done long ago: focus football attention on the spring, find a way to slot it as an option even for two-sport athletes, and help players toward a rewarding athletic existence in the meantime.
There are options. This was not a now-or-never scenario, though it was painted that way. The CIAC said part of its push for a fall season has been fueled by an expectation that COVID-19 metrics will be worse in the spring.
But a pessimistic outlook for the next calendar year does not mean the metrics align for play right now, and the delay allows time for advancements in testing, therapeutics and, perhaps, the development and distribution of a vaccine. Maybe there is a modified version of the sport in the fall, 7 on 7. Maybe only practices in cohorts make sense. Or community service and teamwork initiatives.
There are ways to engage student-athletes in support of their emotional and mental welfare. Not having competition is less than ideal. But a lost slate of games doesn’t compare to what so many others have lost these last months — lost lives, lost businesses.
That perspective alone is a step in the maturation and development that student-athletes have already shown. Another would be channeling energy that, with help and support, doesn’t have to be lost whether any kind of season is restored.
Eventually, there will be stories of what was gained through this loss, how fall 2020 is a time to look back on with pride for players' perseverance, for their ability to adapt and learn something valuable from the harsh lesson that applies now more so than ever: Life isn’t always fair.
Given a focus and a motive, the football community can come together in powerful ways. We’ve seen that. Now that motive must be to make the most of an experience no longer constantly interrupted by the climbs and drops of an emotional roller coaster.
The August-September timeline for discussion and disruption has been emotionally taxing and generally confusing, right down to Lamont leaving open a door that the CIAC must now close.
So student-athletes can start to embrace what is next.
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