Hundreds of high school athletes across Virginia missed out on a chance to compete for a state championship last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic
Virginia High School League Executive Director Dr. Billy Haun and his staff are committed to not letting that happen this year.
On Monday, the VHSL unveiled a plan to offer regular season and state championship events during the 2020-21 athletic year despite a condensed schedule.
Haun presented a draft to the VHSL Executive Committee Monday during a special work session that was held virtually among high school athletic directors, principals and administrators from across the commonwealth.
VHSL staff met with all 27 sports advisory boards, a student advisory committee and most of its regional athletic directors over the past 10 days to come up with the drafted document.
“The level of input has been phenomenal,” Haun said. “They came to the table with some great attitudes about how to make this work. All of these ideas were not unanimous, but this was the majority of what we heard. There were some different ideas here and there, but this is what we heard. This is not final; [it is] a working document. We will ask the executive committee to guide us in our next step of work.”
The draft included regular season and postseason plans for all sports.
Under the plan, schools would play 60% of their usual regular season schedule. Teams that don’t qualify for postseason play will be allowed one additional game, which must be completed during the regional playoff window. All regular season games missed because of COVID-19 issues will be considered a game not played, not a forfeit.
For example, football would be limited to six regular season games played over the course of seven weeks. The proposal includes the first two games taking place on a Monday (Feb. 22) and then a Saturday (Feb. 27), with the remaining four games being played on Fridays through April 2.
VHSL associate director Tom Dolan said school divisions can opt for six Friday night games, but that would be a district decision.
For the football postseason, the top four teams from each region make the playoffs with only semifinal and championship games being held. State playoffs, semifinals and finals, will be played at the top seed in each bracket, unless the site doesn’t meet the VHSL standards.
When possible, state championships will be one-day events in order to eliminate team/school expenses, overnight accommodations and meet COVID-19 safety requirements for indoor facilities.
Here’s a breakdown of all the sports in the VHSL draft proposal:
Basketball: Teams would be limited to 14 games and the first practice would start Dec. 7. Regular season games would begin Dec. 21. Regional play starts on Feb. 8 and must finish by Feb. 13. State semifinals would be played Feb. 16 and state championships on Feb. 20.
Indoor track and field: Teams would be limited to six meets and can start practicing on Dec. 14. Meets can begin on Dec. 28. Regional competition would start the week of Feb. 1. The top three individuals from each event at the regional meet would qualify for the state meet. No qualifying standards will be used. The state championship meet is slated for Feb. 13 and will be a one-day event.
Sideline cheer: First practice starts Dec. 14 and participants can start utilizing stunts on Jan. 6.
Swimming and diving: Teams can compete in up to six regular season meets. Practice begins Dec. 14 and the first meets are slated for Dec. 28. Regional meets are scheduled for Feb. 3. The top four regional finishers in each event will qualify for the state meet and no qualifying standards will be used.
Wrestling: Teams can begin practicing on Dec. 14 and are limited to eight regular season matches. Regional competition starts Feb. 1 and must be completed by Feb. 13. The state championships will be held Feb. 18-20, but will be eight-person brackets and all events will be one-day tournaments.
Competition cheer: Practices start Feb. 4 and teams can compete in up to three regular season competitions, which begin March 1. Regional competitions start April 12 and the state finals are April 17.
Cross country: Training can begin Feb. 4. Teams are limited to six regular season meets. Regional competition starts April 5. One team and the top five individuals at regionals will advance to the state meet, which will be held either April 23 or 24, depending on classification, and be a one-day event.
Field hockey: Practices begin Feb. 15. Teams can play 10 regular season games, which are set to start on March 1. Regional play begins April 12. Only one team from each region advances to the state tournament. State semifinals are scheduled for April 20 and state championships will be held April 22-24.
Golf: Practice begins Feb. 14. Teams can compete in up to eight regular season matches, which start March 1. Regional tournaments start April 12 and the top team and three individuals in each region advance to the state championship meet on April 19. Golfers in the girls tournament will qualify through zone qualifiers. There will be no automatic qualifiers.
Volleyball: Practices can begin Feb. 15. Teams can play up to 12 regular season matches, which start March 1. Regional play begins April 12 and only one team from each region advances to the state tournament. Semifinal matches are slated for April 20 and state championship matches will be held April 23 and 24.
Baseball/softball: Practices begin April 12 and teams are limited to 12 regular season games, which start on April 26. Regional playoffs start June 14 and only one team from each region will advance to the state tournament. The state semifinals will be held June 22 and state championship games are on June 26.
Lacrosse: Practices begin April 12 and teams are limited to nine regular season games, which start on April 26. Regional play begins June 14 and one team from each region qualifies for the state tournament. State semifinals are slated for June 22 and championship games are on June 26.
Tennis: Practices get underway April 12. Teams can compete in up to 10 regular season matches, which start April 21. Regional play for individuals and teams start May 20 and run through June 5. The regional singles, doubles and team champions will advance to the state semifinals, which start June 7. The state championship matches are set to held June 11-13.
Soccer: Practices can start April 12. Teams can play up to 10 regular season games, which begin April 26. Regional play starts June 14 and one team from each region advances to the state tournament. State semifinals will be held June 22 and state championship games are slated for June 26.
Outdoor track and field: Practices begin April 12 and teams are limited to nine regular season meets, which start April 26. Regional meets start June 7 and the top four regional finishers in each event will advance to the state meet. No standards will be used. State meets will be held June 18 and 19 in one-day events.
When sports do resume, how many people will be allowed to watch the games? Haun plans to meet with the Governor’s office, as well as Virginia Department of Heath officials once the VHSL’s plans are finalized to determine fan attendance. Haun plans to ask Governor’s office for 50 percent of the venue with social distancing requirements. If he can’t get that, he would like to get at least 1,000 people.
The VHSL Executive director said its member schools have done a great job following the guidelines set forth by the Governor’s office and believes they can make this work.
“We follow rules, that’s what school people do,” Haun said. “I can assure them we will follow the rules, whether it’s about social distancing or guidelines. I’ve got a lot of good evidence we do that.”
Haun said there’s still plenty of work to be done. The VHSL Executive Committee will be meeting with its school officials, athletic directors, administrators and advisory groups to get additional feedback on the proposed plan. The VHSL Executive Committee will meet again on Thursday, Sept. 3 to vote on a finalized plan.
“We appreciate the hard work and feedback our region athletic directors, coaches, principals, and other representatives provided to our staff during region meetings and through our coaches advisory committees,” Haun said. “Our newly formed Student Advisory Committee also provided invaluable feedback as well. The VHSL is fortunate to have a dedicated group of school administrators and coaches who are working tirelessly during these unprecedented times on behalf of all students, as we plan for athletics and academic activities for the upcoming year.”
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