zstock via shutterstock
A doctor in a protective suit taking a nasal swab from a person to test for coronavirus (zstock via shutterstock)

If Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference officials learned anything the first time, they will announce the adoption of a definitive “Plan B” for the winter sports season following their board meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 17).

Such decisive action would mark a contrast to the start of the fall season. In late August, the CIAC began sending a stream of on-again-off-again messages regarding the upcoming football season. At one point, the CIAC appeared to defy its own Football Committee and the state Department of Public Health, both of which suggested postponing the season until spring. Ultimately, the CIAC pulled the plug on the fall season.

Four weeks later, preliminary plans for a five-game spring season were announced.

Fast-forward to Nov. 5 when the CIAC put the brakes on the winter sports season. Originally slated to begin on Nov. 21, teams will be sidelined temporarily. High-risk sports like wrestling won’t begin until at least 2021, while medium-risk sports such as basketball, gymnastics, and ice hockey will require players face to wear coverings – if they play at all.

Once again, high school athletics are in limbo. Will they or won’t they play? Time for Plan B.

Connecticut just recorded its worst week “since the beginning of the pandemic back in March,” writes CT News Junkie colleague Susan Bigelow. “There were 9,368 new cases recorded between Nov. 4 and Nov. 11, which works out to a case prevalence of 26.22 new cases for every 10,000 residents of the state.”

Last week also saw the number of Connecticut towns under “red alert” climb to over 100, accounting for more than 80% of the state’s population. A red alert means municipalities “have the option to roll back to a more restrictive Phase Two of reopening rather than remain in Phase Three.”

Last week ended with Ansonia Public Schools transitioning to fully remote learning until Jan. 19, Waterbury schools scheduling fully remote learning from Nov. 23 to Jan. 18, and “dozens of other cities and towns” needing to “temporarily [close] schools or [shut] down entire districts due to increased coronavirus infections.”

Not exactly a promising scenario for the start of winter sports. Which points to the need for Plan B.

Rather than putting kids and coaches in limbo by telling them that plans are “fluid” – the euphemism that has become the go-to description for this year’s high school sports – the CIAC should lay out a specific action plan. Something like this:

The start of the winter sports season is postponed until Jan. 25. If metrics are not supportive at that time, the season will be cancelled. The overriding priority of this plan is the health and safety of students, coaches and families. To do otherwise in times of a worldwide pandemic is simply irresponsible.

This policy might not sit well with many players, coaches and families. Aside from shortening the winter sports season, it conflicts with the preliminary plans for spring football – to say nothing of the potential cancellation of all winter sports. So be it. Such is life in a time of crisis. 

Honestly, does anyone expect the infection rates to drop in the next two months? How many schools will actually remain open in that time period? Most importantly, should schools remain open at all with COVID rates continuing to rise?

We’ve been here before. And I don’t mean seven months ago.

The 1918 flu pandemic began with a mild wave in the spring. “However, a second, highly contagious wave of influenza appeared with a vengeance in the fall of that same year. Victims died within hours or days of developing symptoms, their skin turning blue and their lungs filling with fluid that caused them to suffocate.”

In total, the 1918 flu pandemic killed 675,000 Americans over three waves in two years. The current coronavirus has killed 245,000 Americans over two waves in less than a year – and it’s still raging.

What can history teach us? For one, honest leadership makes a difference.

“Tell the truth,” writes John M. Barry, author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History. “That instruction is built into the federal pandemic preparedness plans and the plan for every state and territory.”

Secondly, and even more significantly, beating a pandemic requires cooperation and sacrifice.

“For interventions to work, people have to comply and they have to sustain that compliance; most of that depends on voluntary efforts and individual behavior,” adds Barry.

During the 1918 pandemic, cities that took proactive actions such as shutting down public venues saved lives – think St. Louis – while those that did not saw higher death rates – think Philadelphia.

“The death rate in St. Louis was less than half of the rate in Philadelphia,” write journalists Nina Strochlic and Riley D. Champine. “The deaths due to the virus were estimated to be about 358 people per 100,000 in St Louis, compared to 748 per 100,000 in Philadelphia during the first six months – the deadliest period – of the pandemic.”

The statistics are sobering.  Global pandemics, simply, are a matter of life and death. If that fact doesn’t put high school sports in their proper perspective, nothing will. Here’s hoping the CIAC’s winter sports plan embraces that reality.

Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

Barth Keck

Barth Keck

Barth Keck is in his 31st year as an English teacher and 16th year as an assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition. Follow Barth on Twitter @keckb33 or email him here.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com or any of the author's other employers.