Traditionally, the final week of July marks the start of fall sports practices for high school athletes and coaches in Central Virginia as they gear up or the month-long push to the start of their seasons.
But 2020 has been anything but normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The immediate future of high school athletics in Virginia gained some clarity Monday, when the Virginia High School League Executive Committee approved a plan to ensure seasons for fall, winter and spring athletes. The plan, which passed by a 34-1 vote, includes a delay of high school sports until Dec. 28 with the start of winter sports.
Fall sports follow with a March 1 start, while spring sports will start on April 26 and run through June 26.
“I appreciate the decision from the VHSL’s Executive Committee,” Louisa County athletic director George Stanley said. “Model 3 presents a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ where our kids and coaches have an opportunity to have seasons. We cannot tell where COVID-19 will have us in the future, but having a set plan for activities, to me, is exciting.”
Western Albemarle rising senior athlete Erica Repich was encouraged by the VHSL’s plan.
“I am very happy about the decision,” Repich said. “I think it’s very safe and smart choice that will positively affect everyone as part of the VHSL.”
An all-region field hockey player last fall for the Warriors, Repich did not have a lacrosse season last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was really bummed, but now having the opportunity to have all three sports seasons makes me excited for the year,” she said. “I think it may be a little weird playing my fall sport later in the school year, but overall, I think my team and I will still have fun and be excited for our season.”
William Monroe girls soccer player Sydney Dombrovskis missed out on her junior season last spring. That disappointment is still with her.
“Although I am excited about the prospect of playing high school soccer again, I do have some concerns,” Dombrovskis said. “While I know that we’re prioritizing safety and we have issues bigger than high school sports, as a spring sports athlete, I can’t help but feel like we’re being penalized twice.”
Dombrovskis said she and her teammates were heartbroken when their season was canceled last spring and they’ve spent the entire offseason working to make the most of another opportunity in 2021.
Under the current plan, Dombrovskis said she will finish her high school career with just 2 1/2 seasons, rather than the 3 1/2 seasons that fall and winter sports athletes will receive.
“I feel like we’re getting the short end of the stick again,” Dombrovskis said. “I personally think it would be right to try and reimburse the spring sports into giving them a longer season as a makeup for last year. Instead, we’ll have a condensed season at the end of the year. I know we want to give all of the sports a fair amount of playing time, but I think spring sports should be prioritized and get more time and a longer season.”
Dombrovskis admitted that logistically, truncated sports could become a problem. With the overlap of fall sports and spring practices, that would mean as many as three varsity teams would have to play and practice on the same grass surface, as well as competing for time in the weight room, track and gym.
“It will be extremely challenging for everyone to get equal time,” Dombrovskis said.
Despite the obstacles ahead, Monticello athletic director Matthew Pearman supports the Model 3 decision.
“[Monday’s] decision does two things,” he said. “It preserves an opportunity for every sport and activity to have the chance to compete this school year and it provides time for schools and athletic administrators to plan for condensed seasons.”
Pearman said it’s go-time for the athletic directors.
The Albemarle County School Board is set to meet Thursday and members of the Jefferson District will get together Friday to start outlining scenarios under the VHSL’s new plan.
“The VHSL continues to permit out-of-season workouts, so we’ll take a look at what that might look like locally, in hopes of establishing a framework that offers voluntary opportunities to our students for physical conditioning and exercise in a safe and appropriate manner,” Pearman said.
Another hot topic of conversation expected to be addressed is scheduling.
“The VHSL has used 60 percent as the approximate number for contests under Model 3,” Pearman said. “That seems about right for the regular season, given the dates shared by the VHSL, while allowing for some preseason and some type of postseason.”
VHSL Executive Director Dr. Billy Haun said Monday that the league will spend the next three weeks talking with administrators, coaches and athletic directors to gauge the importance of postseason play or extended seasons among its member schools.
“As usual, we will work to make this work for all our athletes,” Fluvanna athletic director Scott Morris said. “I am very pleased that we are giving this the best chance possible to have an athletic season for our schools. We will meet to set up schedules and set thing up to maximize our time. It will be a fast run to the finish, but we will make it work and provide the best possible atmosphere for our student-athletes and parents as possible.”
William Monroe athletic director Brian Collier agreed.
“Needless to say, we all have to get with our district and regions once we know the contest limits and how the postseason will look,” he said. “I think this was the best option overall.”
Stanley said it won’t be easy.
“That is a process in itself and everyone will need to continue being patient as we work through this,” he said. “Until then, we will continue to collaborate and make decisions that will positively impact our communities.”
Pearman said the initial reaction on the plan has been positive.
“I’ve heard from a number of our coaches and students who are excited about [Monday] morning’s announcement,” he said. “It gives everyone something to look forward to. There is a lot of work to do behind the scenes, however, I do believe the VHSL’s Executive Committee made the right decision to approve a move that allows very team a chance to compete. I’m excited about the work ahead to make this opportunity a reality for our students.”
Repich can’t wait.
“I honestly don’t think my attitude for sports will change at all because of this choice,” Repich said. “If anything, it will make me even more hungry to play. I am very thankful to have the opportunity to play field hockey and lacrosse this upcoming school year, even if it’s only a short period of time. I will cherish every second.”