The Masked Evolution of Winter Sports

Following the rapid spread of the Omnicron variant during December 2021 and a large Covid surge among students and athletes, the CIAC made the decision to enforce mask mandates on all winter athletes, with the exception of wrestlers during the time of competition in their matches. Athletes who had hopes of going maskless subsequently felt varied sentiments of rage, sadness, or indifference when the CIAC mandated athletes don masks during practice and competition for the foreseeable future. The future of winter sports looked grim heading into winter break. After the Warde boy’s basketball team’s first game was canceled due to Covid cases on the opposing team, Ryan Swaller, Mustang’s head coach, shared he hoped “this [was] not a sign for the rest of the season.” 

However, after a successful Holiday Basketball Tournament game over winter break, in which the Mustangs defeated the Jesuits of Fairfield Prep by a 20 point margin and were crowned the champions of Fairfield, the issue of covid cases persisted and worsened. Multiple athletes on the wrestling team and boys basketball team tested positive for covid and were forced to enter “return-to-play” protocols, which sidelined them for at least 17 days. Countless students were out of school, sparking discussion about the possibility of returning to remote learning. The Omicron variant seemed to loom over athletes like a shadow, constantly following them wherever they went, forcing them to take extreme precautions to avoid infection and being sidelined. What started off as hopes of playing without masks quickly became fears of not having a winter sports season at all. 

Then, just like that, it all seemed to go away. In January, athletes entered and exited return to play protocols, leaving the seven-day process behind them. The Mustangs’ Wrestling Team dominated the competition, led by senior Will Ebert, and both the boy’s and girls’ basketball teams continued with their strong play in the FCIAC. The Stampede student section was able to return, helping Boys Basketball win a key matchup against Greenwich Wednesday (2/2). Currently, all seems normal; competition continues within the FCIAC, and the Mustangs are among the contenders for championships in every single winter sport Warde has to offer. However, the thought still looms in the heads of all athletes: “is this just a calm before an even bigger, covid-fueled storm?”

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