Mike DiMauro: Fonfara Follies imperil the safety of high school kids

May 21—All that's left to punctuate the Fonfara Follies is to cue Handel's Hallelujah chorus, or perhaps summon the bagpiper to deliver the haunting strains of Amazing Grace, properly illustrating the gravity of such dramatic news.

Thanksgiving high school football in Connecticut has been saved!

I know. You've been fretting over this for a while.

But fear not. Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, co-chair of the Senate Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee — and now proprietor of the Fonfara Follies — is here for you. For all of us.

In case you are unaware of the Fonfara Follies, here is the two-minute drill version:

Sen. Fonfara included a few sentences about the preservation of Thanksgiving Day football into a 254-page state bonding bill that currently awaits Gov. Ned Lamont's signature. After some language in the bill addresses what's required of boards of education, the Fonfara Follies begin:

"Boards shall not delegate the authority to schedule interscholastic football games on Thanksgiving Day to any nonprofit organization or other entity that is otherwise responsible for governing interscholastic athletics in this state and shall not adopt a policy or prohibition against the scheduling of an interscholastic football game on Thanksgiving Day."

Sen. Fonfara told Hearst Connecticut Media earlier this month that he inserted the language after speaking with fans and others concerned about some proposed changes to the existing CIAC playoff schedule that might threaten the future of Thanksgiving Day games.

The Connecticut High School Football Alliance issued a proposal last November that encouraged an earlier start and end to the season. Schools would play games mostly in their CIAC playoff divisions, playing championship games on Thanksgiving weekend and using Columbus Day for traditional rivalry games.

So let me ask: How is preservation of Thanksgiving Day football any more relevant to a state bonding package than Sen. Fonfara's favorite cannoli recipe?

So let me ask: If this were such a substantial issue, why wasn't there a proposal made to the state education committee with a subsequent hearing? You know. Protocol. That old thing.

So let me ask: Preservation of Thanksgiving football gets mentioned in a state bonding package. But truly pressing educational issues such as funding all school systems properly, ensuring paraprofessionals and security personnel are paid what they're worth, addressing a shortage of trainers and needed infrastructure projects are not?

So let me ask: Does Sen. Fonfara and the agenda-driven dunces who have his ear comprehend that the Fonfara Follies actually imperil the safety, health and well-being of the kids?

That's right. Thanksgiving football combined with the current playoff structure forces the 12 teams that make state championship games to play three games in an 11-12 day span and four games in roughly 17 days. Think about that.

There is no other sport, save perhaps rugby, where injuries are more pervasive than in football, where safety canons have become omnipresent: better and sounder equipment, more stringent concussion protocols, less contact during the practice week, safety-related rule changes and bye weeks to aid in rest and recovery.

This is the same state with a mandated bye week in October to aid in rest and recovery. Those principles don't apply to later in the season when kids are even more bruised, tired and vulnerable?

I've asked numerous trainers their opinions on this with unanimous agreement that kids shouldn't be subject to four football games in 17 days. Fitch's full-time trainer, Bethany Grady, said it best:

"Recovery is literally my first thought," she said. "Do these athletes have the chance at optimal recovery like in Division I or professionals? Not even in the best of circumstances. And then basic calorie consumption opens up a whole different issue. Coming from a school with a high number of free and reduced lunches, I'm betting some of these kids aren't getting adequate nutritional recovery. Never mind basic physical recovery from highly competitive games. This can absolutely lead to subpar performance and as we know, subpar performance can lead to higher risk of injury."

I understand that most readers view Thanksgiving football through the narrow lens of tradition. But there's significantly more to this, with safety batting cleanup. There's also the dizzying levels of unfairness to winter sports programs. This year, the 12 football finalists will play championship games Dec. 14. The winter season starts Dec. 17. Think those kids will be ready physically, mentally or emotionally?

It's clear that some people who command the treacherous combination of influence and agenda got to Sen. Fonfara. The particular language used here was very specific, well beyond the realm of Sen. Fonfara's "fans and others concerned." It even annoyed CIAC officials.

This was an inside job that completely betrays the educational system, whose concerns are significantly more layered than the preservation of Thanksgiving football. And worst: It betrays the safety of the kids.

Surely, Sen. Fonfara's colleagues would want to ask him some of the same questions raised here. I'd remind them that with the number of football playoff teams expanding, more kids than ever are in danger. If the 12 state finalists have rosters around 40, that's 480 potential winter athletes who will be bruised, battered and behind for the winter season, not to mention playing four games in 17 days.

But does anyone else care enough to do something about the Fonfara Follies?

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro