During a special meeting of its executive committee Thursday, the Virginia High School League announced it has made no concrete decision regarding the status of the fall sports season.
“A lot of people will be disappointed once this meeting is over because the Virginia High School League staff is not bringing forth any recommendation for fall athletic schedules for this meeting,” said Billy Haun, the VHSL’s executive director.
Even with Virginia entering Phase III July 1 as social gathering restrictions lift in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are too many unknowns and variables right now to implement a definite schedule since safety precautions are still in place to combat the virus.
Haun said the executive committee, which is primarily comprised of school superintendents, principals and athletic directors, will continue to meet again in July and August to discuss the issue. Fall sports are football, volleyball, cross country, golf, field hockey and cheerleading.
“We just don’t know exactly where we are going to be,” Haun said. “We could continue on a very, very positive trend. We could be like some of the other states now that summer is here and beaches are opened and things are different and if people are outside venturing out and going places that it might go up. I think we can make a more informed decision. We will have more data in four weeks, eight weeks than what we have right now.”
The first day of football practice is scheduled for July 30. Practices for the other fall sports are scheduled to begin Aug. 3. The VHSL approved the resumption of out-of-season workouts to start 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.
Haun pointed to a number of factors why the VHSL opted to hold off presenting any proposals Thursday to the executive committee.
One is how school divisions can field sports teams if their students are only at school a limited number of days due to Phase III’s maximum limit of 250 people at gatherings. There are also transportation challenges, including costs, involved in how athletes travel to games.
School districts must submit their re-opening proposals for approval to the Virginia Department of Education, but they could all vary depending on their circumstance.
If Phase Three is still in effect when schools reopen in August, in-person instruction will be allowed at all grade levels, but physical distancing guidelines must be followed in classrooms and on school buses.
That means most of the area’s large school systems are developing plans for a hybrid of in-person and remote learning with staggered schedules for students. Several school systems, including Loudoun and Prince William counties, are conducting their own surveys of parents before finalizing their plans.
Fairfax County has proposed two enrollment options where students can choose either virtual learning fulltime or attend school in person part time.
“I don’t understand how you can think about playing team sports while you are social distancing,” said Haun. “I don’t know how some school divisions can do social distancing, staggered schedules and think that there is not going to be an equity issue about who can get to practice every day if you do team sports.”
Haun also said a maximum of 250 people at an athletic event, a total that includes officials and other individuals who work the games, could impact programs financially.
“If we were to play in Phase 3 the 250 limit would include all of the participants,” Haun said. “That doesn’t leave very many options for paid spectators. I think one of the things we all have to acknowledge is that how much can we afford a full slate of athletic activities if we don’t have some of those gate receipts.”
In case fall sports are unable to begin on time, Haun said there are other scheduling options the VHSL might look at.
On Thursday, Haun shared a model (see below) that would reschedule the fall, winter and spring sports seasons. Haun emphasized that this is just an example and nothing definite has been decided yet.
Season 1, Dec. 13-Feb. 20 — Basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swimming and diving, wrestling.
Season 2, Feb. 15-May 1 — Football, volleyball, golf, cross country, field hockey, competitive cheer.
Season 3, April 12-June 26 — Baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track.
On Thursday, the VHSL also approved its 2021 budget. The budget has the potential for a $564,628.64 deficit, but prevents furloughs for any VHSL staff. The budget is fluid and will be reviewed quarterly by the budget committee, the finance committee and the executive committee.
Haun remains hopeful that there will be a fall sports season, but health considerations come first.
“We’ve got eight weeks until Labor Day and that will help us with guidelines the governor imposes,” Haun said. “The VHSL is pushing for two things: the safety of our student athletes and as soon as possible, get them back on the field safely.”