Despite COVID, Boys Soccer Still Had Plenty to Play For

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Courtesy of Carolyn Montero

The Nonnewaug boys soccer team celebrates a goal earlier this season. The Chiefs, who won last year’s Berkshire League title, had a 9-1 record with three games remaining in this pandemic-shortened season.

Christian Swanson, Sports Reporter

WOODBURY — With COVID-19 on the rise, the Nonnewaug boys soccer team has had to make some changes to how they go through daily life. Did they even want to go back and risk getting COVID-19?

Nonnewaug started its 2020 season back in September with full-contact practice. Now as the team closes in on the end of the shortened season, the players couldn’t be happier.

The timing of the coronavirus caused many teams and leagues to cancel their season.  

Woodbury’s Zack Hellwinkle explained the situation as a nerve-wracking ordeal.

“We were all wondering what was going to happen, hoping we would have a season,” Hellwinkle said.

It was originally decided that the season would not go on.

“I understood why it was getting canceled, but I was still saddened,” Hellwinkle said.

After the second meeting of the Region 14 Board of Education, it was settled that the season would happen with strict rules and regulations.

Hellwinkle explained his view on the new set of rules.

“I think that the new rules are very important to keep everyone safe in school and on the soccer team,” Hellwinkle said.  “Without these rules, many people would be in danger, and people that are against having the season would be more inclined to think that maybe it was wrong to have the soccer season.”

But enforcing these rules doesn’t come easy, Toby Denman, the head coach of the soccer team, explained.

“One of the challenging aspects of the COVID-19 rules is having to remind teenage boys to put their masks on,” Denman said. “For a population that sometimes forgets to do things, like put their shin guards on and tends to leave their belongings all over the place, adding in a task like having to put a mask on when not actively playing is sometimes a difficult thing to remember.  

“Our guys have been good about mask protocols, however,” Denman continued. “In order to run practice we’ve had to issue pinnies (scrimmage vests) to the guys and be sure that they bring them every day. This is new since we would usually just share them. Being unable to share certain equipment has also been a challenge.”

Even if the rules are hard to implement, it is mandatory that they are kept so the season could be continued. In the midst of everything that is going on, the team is still battling for another Berkshire League championship — the Chiefs are trying to defend last year’s title. Nonnewaug had an 9-1 record through Nov. 9, with its only blemish coming in the Oct. 1 season opener against Northwestern. The Chiefs’ final three games were set for three straight days Nov. 10-12 against Wamogo, Wolcott Tech, and Shepaug.

Even though they were lucky enough to have a season unlike some other teams in Connecticut, the Chiefs’ luck ran out when the state tournament was canceled by the CIAC. Many were saddened by the news, including Hellwinkle.

“It was pretty disappointing for me that the team would not be having a state tournament, however, I have been motivated to create better relationships with my teammates and coaches because of it,” Hellwinkle explained.

“Not having a state tournament is disappointing, but given everything that’s going on, I’m just happy to have whatever portion of the season we’re able to have,” Denman said. “It was a barren existence in the spring, so just being around the guys every day is good enough for me.”