With spectators limited to just over two dozen people, the stands during winter sports will look different than in previous years.
Last month, the Virginia High School League (VHSL) put restrictions in place limiting the number of spectators for sporting events to just 25, matching Governor Ralph Northam’s most recent COVID-19 mitigation measures. Northam amended his Executive Order 67 in early November, decreasing public and private gatherings from 250 people to just 25.
In a press release issued Nov. 20, the VHSL said the 25 people limit applies to spectators only and does not include participants at the events. Participants are defined in Northam’s order as “players, coaches, officials, school event staff and school administration critical to operations of the contests, media, law enforcement and medical services.” However, “cheerleaders, pep bands, etc. and other student support groups are counted as spectators in the limit of 25 allowed at events.”
Aside from discounting those students, as one Change.org petition with more than 2,300 signatures alleges, it also further limits the number of spectators that will be able to enter games.
Madison County High School Activities Director Keith Slezak said cheerleaders will be split into four different squads—A and B junior varsity squads and A and B varsity squads. Each squad will consist of four cheerleaders. Only junior varsity cheerleaders will attend junior varsity games and only varsity cheerleaders will attend varsity games.
It’s unknown how many parents will be able to attend games, but it’ll look similar to the cheerleader situation. Junior varsity parents at junior varsity games and varsity parents at varsity games. Everyone will leave once one game has finished allowing for a switch to the next group.
Slezak said its unknown how the 25 spaces will be distributed, but parents of participants will have first priority. He said a plan will take shape once the teams are formed. In Greene County, William Monroe High School is planning to give two tickets to each player on the team for distribution, while Albemarle County has decided there will be no spectators at their events. The one thing that is known is that no passes, including senior citizen passes, will be accepted due to the 25 spectator limit.
To address some of the lack of spectator spaces, Slezak said Madison will live stream games using the Pixellot system, which is an automated sports production camera that automatically followed the action at events. The system streams the sporting event to users via the NFHS Network. Spectators can register for an annual pass for $69.99 or a monthly pass for $10.99 to get access to live regular season and post-season events. William Monroe, Orange County and Fluvanna County High Schools will also utilize the system. Slezak said the cameras are being installed in the Wetsel Middle School gym later this week and the technology department is working to expand the bandwidth to effectively stream the games.
Meanwhile, students are gearing up for tryouts. Some teams have been conditioning since Aug. 27 in accordance with district and CDC guidelines. Actual practices aren’t allowed to begin until tryouts, which will be held Dec. 7-8 for girls and boys basketball and Dec. 14-15 for wrestling and boys and girls swimming. The first home basketball game is for Dec. 21 and will have the girls facing off against Page County.
Each sport will experience a shortened season, playing approximately 60% of its normal contests. The regular basketball season will wrap Feb. 2 with post-season play beginning after. Fall sports will be up next, followed by spring sports. Meanwhile, some activities have gone 100% virtual including forensics.
Slezak, who is in his first year as activities director, said developing a plan has been difficult since things are continuously changing, but he’s excited to get games underway.
“Everybody is excited to get back out and [have] some sort of normalcy,” he said, noting the issue has caused “many sleepless nights.”
Statewide, 16 school divisions have opted to not participate in winter sports this year. None of those are within the Bull Run District.
“Right now, everyone is playing,” he said.
Slezak said more information regarding the distribution of the spectator spaces will be available in the next few weeks. Updates and changes will be announced via Robocalls, the new activities website, https://madisoncounty.rschoolteams.com/, and social media.