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Gold stars to ECC for adhering to COVID protocols

The vagaries of COVID-19, as many other issues do now, offer a platform for the extremists and their ideological and political combat zones.

Side A: Proselytize against wearing masks and sustain the anti-science rhetoric of the 45th president.

Side B: If you leave your house without two masks, face shield and body armor, you and others may not only contract COVID, but malaria, diphtheria, hepatitis and perhaps the plague, too.

Then there's the rest us trying to find our way, seemingly left to hum a Stealers Wheel line from the 70s: "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you."

And so depending on your bent, the concept of playing high school sports, especially basketball this winter, was either long overdue in the face of the snowflakes or perilously irresponsible, what with all that huffing and puffing going on indoors.

One week into the season and this is what can be reported: Gold stars all around for athletic officials within the Eastern Connecticut Conference.

I've been to three games in three different gyms: Waterford, New London and Norwich Free Academy. The atmospheres have been safe and professional. COVID protocols are specific, taken seriously and applied consistently. It has been a noteworthy undertaking.

This is significant for many reasons, not the least of which is providing the kids, coaches and parents a fun distraction. But the success of the season — even if of modest length thus far — also underscores future possibilities if COVID protocols are followed, regardless of our personal opinions on the subject.

Don't discount that one. Common denominator information is hard enough to find now without the noise of irrelevant personal opinions. COVID is hard enough to navigate — viruses don't discriminate — but harder when someone with a degree in epidemiology from Facebook likes the sound of his/her voice.

Two of the three gyms have required temperature checks and a questionnaire about one's current health. In all three gyms, masks were worn at all times. The players are afforded mask breaks in each quarter, but must socially distance, a fact some athletic directors had to reinforce. Benches are opposite each other. Basketballs are sanitized when they go out of play. Sportsmanship has never been better.

Amazing what happens when we truly believe we're all in this together.

Most impressive thus far: the attention to detail. Rules are not easily applied in competitive atmospheres. And while things haven't been perfect — a kid or two the other night in the St. Bernard-NFA game played with masks pulled below their noses occasionally — the first week of competition was downright harmonious.

I can't speak for other leagues throughout the state. But I've never seen the ECC run better than during this era of COVID. It's been all about cooperation and effort, all while navigating new rules and protocols that often confuse us.

I get that this may be moot in a week. Teams could certainly go on pause for reasons that relate — or do not — to basketball. Again: Viruses don't discriminate. But if the kids continue to pick sports over a social life, protocols are respected and we all stick our personal opinions where the sun doesn't shine, things will get better, not worse, as spring gets closer.

To all the athletic directors: Thank you for making me feel safe doing my job. Gone are the days of taking anything for granted, let alone one's well-being.

I hope parents remain grateful that their sons and daughters get to play. Grateful they can watch the games streamed on theday.com and the NFHS Network (although ours is better). We all get that you'd like to be there live. Just remember: This is about the kids. Not you.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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