St. Anne’s-Belfield’s Gabe Decker (right) runs for a score in a game at St. Anne’s Belfield.

Dewayne Robinson had a unique perspective on Tuesday’s decision by the Virginia Prep League and League of Independent Schools to not sponsor high school football this fall in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic

The St. Anne’s-Belfield athletic director also serves as the president of the Prep League and was one of the key figures behind the decision to limit fall athletic offerings to girls tennis and cross country.

“All the schools in the VPL and LIS understood the impact that physical activity and athletic programming had on our student experiences and thus, all were committed to determining if athletic programming was feasible to rediscover the social, emotional and mental benefits of athletics that we lost this spring,” Robinson said. “Additionally, we felt there was uncertainty about what the landscape would look like during the winter months, so our focus became what could be done safely, with confidence, this fall, if anything at all.”

Robinson and other administrators throughout the area have spent the past several months evaluating the data on the COVID-19 pandemic and weighing different options before ultimately deciding on pushing the start of fall sports until October for sports classified by the National Federation of High Schools as low risk based.

“We felt many schools were dealing with a range of issues, including adjustments to new norms of school communities and safe returns to the classrooms,” Robinson said. “Additionally, we wanted to ensure there was adequate time to have in-depth discussion around the logistics of interscholastic competitions under the most accurate guidelines and recommendations, while also allowing each athletic department to do a review of their protocols and procedures.”

Last week, the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association announced that it would not sanction state championships this fall, but allowed individual conferences the opportunity to host regular season competition. The VPL took advantage of that opportunity with a condensed schedule.

Cross country and girls tennis are slated to return to competition this fall, but Robinson admits it will be under unique guidelines. The VPL president expects alterations to be made with the way both sports will be played to ensure schools offer the safest experience possible.

For example, cross country meets could feature staggered start times with individual teams running the course one team at a time.

Each runner will be timed and the individual with the fastest time will be crowned the meet winner. In girls tennis, early discussions have included playing singles only.

“Many of the logistics are still being determined, but STAB’s plan is to play a conference schedule only,” Robinson said. “This will naturally result in a reduced schedule. Our conference has discussed a singles-only format [in tennis], a decision that will likely be adopted under the notion of modifications that elevate safety.”

The VPL didn’t make its decision lightly and gauged plans from other organizations, including the Virginia High School League, as well as neighboring conferences before outlining its plans.

“We were aware of a wide range of decisions being made across conferences across Virginia and our discussion centered around what was important to the schools in the league and what was best for each community involved,” Robinson said. “We had discussions surrounding many different options, including the VHSL plans, and ultimately landed on our released plan that all school leaders felt really good about. Additionally, we felt considerations could continue around moderate risk sports and modifications that could potentially allow them to be played safely.”

Robinson noted that there is possibility more sports could be played this fall, depending on changes in guidelines from Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control.

“The conference remains in consideration on decisions surrounding moderate and high-risk sports,” he said. “We understand all of this is fluid, and as a result, are aiming to take it week-by-week. While we did discuss the VHSL options that were presented during the process of making our decision, we did not dive into what life after fall athletics would look like. We are still in consideration of fall activities and any decisions on adjustments will happen at later date. Anything beyond that will be discussed as new information comes in , under the current realities of our communities at that time.”

The STAB athletic director asked for patience from his student-athletes and parents as schools navigate through an uncertain time.

“Our message to the St. Anne’s community was that our focus is on doing what we can safely to ensure our physical activity programming is able to remain a positive and educational tool for students during these unique times,” Robinson said. “We also stressed the fluidity of this situation and the reality that we are taking this week-by-week and will pivot as needed to ensure the health and safety of our students, coaches and communities remain of the utmost importance.”

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