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It's time for CIAC to stop giving the shaft to H.S. coaches

First, the gratitude before the attitude: Mad props and bon mots to everyone associated with the Eastern Connecticut Conference (and the state in general) for a basketball season that even members of the Optimists' Club doubted would ever happen.

The kids, coaches and especially athletic directors did that whole collaboration thing and arduously navigated the perils of COVID-19, all the way to a fun, successful season.

Now for the truth: The quality of basketball was an aesthetic airball. This is nobody's fault. The residual effects of COVID prevented kids from playing much in the offseason, illustrating an inevitable lack of skill development that became more obvious than a roadside billboard.

This once again compels the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference to allow basketball coaches — all high school coaches, really — the ability to instruct in the offseason. Deficiencies in skill development will extend beyond basketball and into all other sports, too.

"Think about it," Southern Connecticut Conference commissioner Al Carbone said Saturday. "Today (Saturday) is the first day spring softball and baseball. The coaches haven't seen their kids in two years. No chance for them just to show the kids the basics: 'This is how we run practice. This is how we do drills. This is how we take ground balls.'"

The SCC has become the state's quarterback on this issue, submitting a letter to CIAC two years ago this spring about offseason instruction.

The letter read, "During the summer, coaches will be permitted to provide opportunities for athletes to work on sport specific skills with their players, and they may coach their athletes in leagues and tournaments.

"The skill sessions during the summer are completely voluntary, open to all who would like to participate, and held on school district grounds in school district buildings or in locations agreed upon by both the athletic director and coach for those teams that do not have access to facilities on school grounds."

The SCC also provided several reasons for its rationale:

• Current rules prevent student-athletes and their families who seek summer coaching from being taught by certified high school coaches, but instead by AAU coaches not vetted, employed by their school or bound by CIAC rules.

• Removing limitations in the summer creates an economically equal playing field for all CIAC schools. Many schools and towns in Connecticut have the financial resources to work around such limitations, hiring professionals to run camps and clinics. Many don't.

• Other states have addressed more offseason instruction in their handbooks. The governing body of high school sports in North Carolina, for example, wrote, "To encourage athletes to spend more time with their high school coaches and less time with so-called street coaches, travel and showcase teams, (North Carolina) has dropped limits on the number of athletes who can take part in offseason skill development."

Nearby Rhode Island adopted offseason parameters two years ago. The stipulations: "Coaches may not work with more than three players at one time and must do so at one facility for no more than three hours per week; Administrators must approve all offseason work before it begins; Administrators also must approve any instruction that takes place off school grounds, in the event the school has facilities under repair or insufficient."

Note to the CIAC: Rhode Island did this two years ago. The SCC's letter was submitted two years ago. It's time. Just ask Fitch boys' basketball coach Charles Silvan, who is part of a vocal group of coaches who want change.

"Offseason instruction should be mandatory," Silvan said. "They've come up with the reconstitution of a football plan on three different occasions. So I'm waiting for them to make some sort of adjustment for winter sports so the kids have an opportunity to recover what they've lost."

More Silvan: "Two avenues for that would be allowing us to have the NCAA-mandated dates at the end of June, where we could have showcases on campus that would give the kids an opportunity for exposure. That would allow recruiting to start taking place back in school like it used to. They meet with the principal, guidance counselor and the coaches. The other avenue allows us to have instructional camps. Build them up from feet all the way up."

Carbone said the CIAC has formed a committee to discuss the SCC's proposal.

"The committee has met several times," Carbone said. "We're still waiting to see what report they have."

Question: How long does this committee need? High school coaches deserve the opportunity to instruct their kids. It is natural, obvious and necessary.

"The time is right — right now — to let qualified high school coaches, who go through all the training, to interact with the kids — especially after what we just went through," Carbone said. "What we know is that the kids need instruction and need to be with their teammates in the offseason to get organized."

The CIAC has perhaps unwittingly taken its first steps toward offseason instruction by allowing instructional "hubs" this summer for football. The plan has warts — the words "nominal cost" worry me for kids who can't afford such things — but at least there's some effort.

"When we get report from the committee, we can give a specific proposal to CIAC," Carbone said. "Given what we've been through the last 12 months, I think people will be more receptive.

"I'll say this: The summer football experience the CIAC has planned is out-of-season coaching. It's a perfect way to kick off discussion about the value of out-of-season coaching. We always talk about high school sports being educationally based. Who better to work with the kids than educationally based coaches?"

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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