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New Patriot head football coach Sean Finnerty shares a light moment with his players during his team's first practice for the 2019 high school football season on Thursday, August 1.

The Virginia High School League's executive committee will vote Monday on a plan for sports for the 2020-21 school year, but none of the models being considered includes playing football in the fall. 

With that in mind, high school football coaches across Northern Virginia are turning their attention to preparing for a winter or spring season.

"Everyone is trying to make the best decision possible," said Patriot head football coach Sean Finnerty. "It's an extremely tough decision. [We] have to focus now on making sure our boys get a season whether it's this winter or spring. Football means more than just a sport to our boys. It's a tool that is used for many things whether it is to get to college or learning life lessons."

During a meeting of the executive committee July 15, VHSL executive director Billy Haun presented three models for the committee to consider. None of them included football in the fall, but Model 2 scheduled the sport for the spring and the Model 3 for the winter. The first model kept fall sports where it is, meaning no football at all because it is a high-risk contact sport.

When the committee meets Monday, it is expected to vote to approve one of the three models. Model 3 seems the likeliest option because it allows all sports a chance to compete in a condensed format that would begin in December with the winter athletics.

"With all the uncertainty of things, I like this model because it gives all kids no matter the season the hope that we can still play," said Manassas Park activities director Dan Forgas, who is also a member of the executive committee. "Getting back to playing is the big picture hope we all have. At this point in time, I want us to play football and all sports, even if they look different this year. With that said, we have to also stay focused on the health and safety of our students and coaches."

Finnerty said he will talk to his players and their parents about a plan going forward once the VHSL makes its decision.

While area high school football coaches hoped for a return to the field this fall for games, everyone remained realistic about the possibility of no football this fall given the difficulties of staging contests with the coronavirus still posing challenges.

What they sought most to still have a season even if it was delayed.

“They just want to play when it’s safe,” said Hylton head coach Nate Murphy. “They have no concern when that is. If it’s in the spring or late winter they just want to play.”

As a first-year head football coach hired in late February, Murphy has missed out on most of the in-person time usually associated with getting to know his new team and preparing for the upcoming season.

In mid-March, the coronavirus outbreak shut down the Prince William County Public School system for the rest of the academic year. Since then, Murphy has been unable to do much with his players outside of checking in with them via Zoom.

The VHSL allowed schools to hold out-of-season workouts starting June 15.

But before out-of-season practices can take place, schools must submit health plans to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) with how they will comply with strategies to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus in accordance with policies established by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Prince William County high schools have not been approved yet to start out-of-season workouts.

“My first concern with no football in the fall is that I worry we lose a tool early in the school year to help student athletes,” Murphy said. “Football is an extension of the classroom. We all want to be able to play football in the fall, but we all understand that it’s not possible at this time.”

Patriot senior and Virginia Tech commitment Jalen Stroman is open to competing at any point during the school year.

“I would love a chance to play with my team winter or spring as long as it’s safe for all,” said Stroman.

How high school sports will look

The Virginia High School League’s Executive Committee will vote July 27 to approve one of the three proposed models for the 2020-21 academic year:

MODEL 1

Leave sports in their current seasons, but only golf and cross country would be allowed to start in the fall because they fall into the lower to moderate contact category.

As high-risk sports, field hockey, football, volleyball and cheerleading would not be played at all during the 2020-21 school year.

MODEL 2

Switch the fall and spring seasons, which means the following low and moderate sports would be allowed to compete in the fall: track and field, tennis, soccer, baseball and softball. Fall sports would be scheduled for the spring.

The high risk-sports, boys and girls lacrosse, would not be allowed to play.

MODEL 3

All sports would remain in the season in which they are currently aligned, but a condensed interscholastic schedule would be adopted as follows:

Season 1 (Winter sports) would run Dec. 14-Feb. 20. The first contest would be Dec. 28.

Season 2 (Fall sports) would run Feb. 15-May 1 with the first contest starting March 1.

Season 3 (Spring sports) would run April 12-June 26 with the first contest starting April 26.

David Fawcett is the sports editor for InsideNoVa.com. Reach him at dfawcett@insidenova.com

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