STONINGTON — For the first time in more than a century, Stonington High will not play football this fall.
The coronavirus pandemic has canceled the season.
The CIAC pulled the plug Friday morning in a statement posted to its website. The announcement removes any faint hope that Stonington and Westerly High might continue their long Thanksgiving Day rivalry, a game that has been played for the last 98 years.
Rhode Island also canceled fall football on Friday and instead will play sometime between the traditional winter and spring seasons.
The Connecticut Department of Public Health has made it clear it would not support high-risk activities such as football in the fall.
The CIAC said it did not want to put school superintendents and boards of education in the position of recommending against the DPH.
"'As such, the CIAC Board of Control, in alignment with DPH recommendations, has determined that high risk full contact football is no longer a viable option," the statement reads.
"I feel terrible for our seniors and I feel awful they have been put through this," Stonington coach A.J. Massengale said Friday morning. "I feel terrible for all our kids. They have all worked incredibly hard and this is something that is very important to them."
Massengale met with the team later on Friday.
It is unclear if the sport could be played at another time during the academic year. Previously, the CIAC said traditional fall sports not played in the fall would not be played in the 2020-21 school year.
But there seems to be some support for moving the sport, or some version of it, to the spring.
Massenagle said he would support such a proposal, but only if it is a serious one.
"We all want a season for the kids, but I would not want it to conflict with another season. Everybody loses in that situation," he said. "I hope it's something that is done in good faith and something everybody believes in. I don't want it to be something where we are just kicking the can down the road. It feels that way right now. If I feel that way, I know that some of our parents and kids do, too."
Stonington athletic director Bryan Morrone, who also serves as president of the ECC, said league officials plan to meet next week to consider their options.
"The bomb dropped today and we are trying to pick up the pieces," Morrone said.
The CIAC said it will work to provide football players "meaningful low to moderate risk fall activities."
Morrone said playing 7 vs. 7 contests without contact or tackling is a possibility. Some have said such a move would eliminate linemen, but Morrone suggested 7 vs. 7 contests could be divided into groups, one involving linemen and the other involving skill players.
Morrone and Massengale met with school principal Mark Friese on Friday morning and they discussed a number of options for the football program.
"Today will not be the end [of football]," Massengale said. "I don't know what it will exactly look like moving forward, but it will be worthwhile, fun and competitive."
Morrone said at the very least the school could offer an internal 7 vs. 7 football league.
"We have not issued any football equipment and we won't be issuing any," Morrone said. "At this point there will be no football like we know it. It's very disheartening. I feel bad for the kids, especially the seniors. But they are not the first group of kids to be denied something. We went through this in the spring."
The CIAC said it would move forward with another sport deemed high risk, girls volleyball, this fall. Players will be required to wear face coverings, which reduce risk, according to the CIAC.
Girls volleyball joins soccer, field hockey, cross country and swimming as viable fall sports. Teams will play a condensed season with less games and regional schedules, according to the CIAC plan announced in late July.
Full team practices will begin on Sept. 21 with games scheduled to begin on Oct. 1.