The Virginia High School League Executive Committee is set to reconvene Monday to vote on which of its three return-to-play options for sports to use for the 2020-21 school year.
Administrators and coaches around the state are meeting this week with constituents in their region to weigh the pros and cons off all three plans.
“I want to make sure that all of my players and coaches are given the best scenarios where they can participate as much as possible within the safety parameters of the CDC, Governor and the VHSL,” Louisa County athletic director George Stanley said. “We have a good number of players and coaches who do multiple sports and one of my focal points is to provide equitable opportunities for all involved in activities and athletics.”
Model 1 keeps sports aligned in their current format, but would mean only sports such as cross country and golf would compete this fall based on the VHSL guidelines for social distancing. It also would mean that “high-risk” sports such as football, volleyball and field hockey would not have a season.
Model 2 would flip the spring and fall sports seasons, which would allow for more sports to be played in the fall. A potential downside to that plan would be that if another spike in COVID-19 cases occur during the fall, it could mean another lost season for spring athletes. Another hurdle for Model 2 came on Tuesday, when the NCAA re-classified soccer as a high contact risk sport, placing it in the same classification with basketball, field hockey, football, lacrosse, volleyball and wrestling. Lacrosse and soccer are both spring sports and could not be played in the fall under the current health protocols in place in Virginia.
Model 3 would push back the start of sports until the end of December and all three athletic seasons would be condensed. Winter sports would begin in December and be followed by fall sports in February and spring sports at the end of April.
“All three models have their advantages and disadvantages,” Nelson County athletic director Greg Mullins said, “but Model 3 allows each student-athlete the opportunity to participate in an activity they enjoy.”
Support for Model 3 appears to be gaining momentum across the commonwealth during the regional meetings. Mullins said members of Region 2C met Monday and decided to support the Model 3 plan.
“It was pretty close to unanimous for Model 3, with Model 2 gaining some support as well,” Mullins said. “Model 3 allows each season to happen, albeit in a different format than usual. Those coaches and athletes have the opportunity to participate in their respective sports and activities as long as we are able to compete and practice with the reopening guidelines.”
In Region 3C, which includes Monticello, Fluvanna County, Charlottesville and Western Albemarle, the athletic directors and administrators unanimously voted in favor of Model 3.
“Athletic directors, coaches, students and parents all want to compete this school year,” Monticello athletic director Matthew Pearman said. “We are all passionate about the importance of athletics and activities in the lives of our students and [Model] 3 is the only option that provides every team an opportunity to compete.”
Region 5D members were all in agreement as well.
“We met and without hesitation went with Model 3,” Albemarle athletic director Deb Tyson said. “Geographically, our region is very large, stretching from Stafford County to Roanoke and we wanted to make sure that we went with a model that would allow a season for all sports. Travel was a concern, [because of the pandemic] and we wanted to make sure that we were banking on a plan that’s safe.”
Fluvanna County athletic director Scott Morris said he would be in favor of another plan that could include some sports being played in the fall.
“I would add is I would love to see if we could get the Tier 1 sports possible going now, if at all possible,” Morris said. “This would lessen the strain and burden for the consecutive three seasons plan starting in December.”
In Region 3B, which includes William Monroe, informal meetings were held this week to gauge interest among the member schools. The consensus was most schools supported the Model 3 concept, but admitted there were lot of variables still to consider.
Orange County athletic director Michael Neeley said Model 3 was the front-runner among Region 4B schools.
“It appears that option No. 3 provides the best opportunity for our kids to have the potential for all three seasons,” Neeley said. “It also affords us time to make preparations and mitigate potential hazards to keep our students, staff and community safe.
“There are many questions yet to be answered with any of the options, but [Model 3] has the potential for some interesting scenarios in the regular season and possible postseason. Every cloud has a silver lining and now that we are beginning to move forward, I think we should consider the positive potential in front of us.”
“We are learning as we go with this pandemic and we want to make sure our participants are kept as safe as possible, and at the same time, as active as possible,” he said. “At this point, I do not believe there is a 100 percent right answer as to how to navigate through this process because it is new to us all, but so long as we keep the safety and well-being of our kids, coaches, community members at the forefront of our decisions, we will be moving in the right direction. I look forward to working through this process in the name of the great Louisa County community.”
After the loss of spring sports at the end of the 2019-20 school year, the VHSL hopes it finds the best option to give all student-athletes a chance to compete during the 2020-21 school. The process of navigating a pandemic has been difficult for everyone involved.
“We can call our students and coaches resilient and think they’ll get over last spring’s cancellation and that they’ll be able to handle whatever the upcoming year will look like,” Pearman said. “However, this is hard on everyone. VHSL athletics and activities are such a great part of the lives of so many of our students, coaches, staff and families and it’s been taken away from them. Of course, we want to keep everyone physically healthy by competing when our local and state leaders say it’s safe to do so, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that mental health is a concern.”
Whatever decision is made, Pearman said Monday’s VHSL Executive Committee meeting will help set the tone for the entire school year.
“My own 5-year-old son has started asking if we will ever get to go to games at Monticello again,” he said. “That brings me to tears and I know those conversations are happening at age appropriate levels, in many homes. If we have to choose, I can’t imagine not choosing the option that provides every team an opportunity to compete this year.”
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