ctnewsjunkie file photo
Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford (ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT — (Updated with comment from the CIAC) The Department of Public Health says not all high school sports are equal and they wouldn’t start them immediately. However, the letter saying so came after the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference voted to move ahead with fall sports.

The CIAC sought the advice of the Department of Public Health, but its control board issued a decision Wednesday, one day before the DPH was able to weigh in on the issue.

Public Health Commissioner Deidre Gifford said the state isn’t recommending that high schools abandon high schools sports, but would recommend postponing football and volleyball until the spring.

“Full-contact football is unique among the fall interscholastic sports in our state in its level of risk to student-athletes for the person-to-person spread of infectious respiratory droplets,” Gifford said in her letter to the CIAC. “As you are aware, most of the collegiate conferences and many state high school interscholastic sport organizations have already postponed or canceled football for the upcoming season.”

Gifford recommended postponing volleyball because it’s an indoor sport.

“Although there is infrequent close contact between opposing players involved with this sport, the fact that activities for this sport are occurring indoors and involve significant physical exertion and forceful communication with teammates, the risk for person-to-person spread of infectious droplets is elevated for this specific sport,” Gifford said.

She said soccer, swimming, and cross country running pose less of a risk.

Gifford said schools should also delay the start of any sports.

“DPH’s advice therefore focuses on re-starting academic activities first, allowing schools and students to acclimate to social distancing and mask-wearing requirements that are critical to successful re-opening, followed shortly thereafter by the introduction of lower-risk sports,” she added.

However, that’s not what the CIAC control board voted upon Wednesday.

Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said they will stick with the fall sports schedule, which includes football, soccer, field hockey, cross country, girls volleyball, and girls swimming.

In a statement Thursday, the CIAC said it “appreciates the detailed position provided by DPH this morning on the topic of fall interscholastic athletics. As has been stated throughout this process, the Board of Control will review any new information as soon as it becomes available, and it will be doing that with these recommendations in detail.”

The CIAC said it reached out to the Department of Public Health in late July.

Some lawmakers support the decision to start fall sports.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, who is a high school football coach in Berlin, and Rep. Vincent Candelora, who owns a sports complex in North Branford, said they support the CIAC’s decision.

“We all acknowledge this remains a fluid situation that demands flexibility, yet with the strict safety protocols that are being put in place, combined with the best health statistics and metrics of any state in the country, Connecticut is a place where this can work safely if we all follow the guidelines,” Aresimowicz said. “It is important to also understand that unlike colleges, where UConn and others have cancelled their seasons, for high schools there is no traveling to other states or out-of-state teams coming here, and scholastic schedules are regional. Just like on the field, teamwork will make this a successful fall for our student athletes.”

Candelora said his sports complex has been open since June 20 without incident.

“We have seen no outbreaks during this time. Connecticut needs to move ahead with a sensible, but robust, high school sports program when our kids go back to school in September,” he added.

However, lawmakers like Sen. Christine Cohen of Branford, aren’t convinced it’s the right decision.

“Colleges calling off seasons but it’s ok for our high schoolers to play football despite CIAC subcommittee thinking not??” Cohen tweeted.