No jump ball to start a basketball game. Volleyball teams must remain on the same side for an entire match instead of switching after each set. And the pre-game coin toss at midfield for a football game should include only each team’s coach and one official.
These are some of the many requirements and recommendations the Virginia High School League announced Oct. 30 in a 39-page document titled “2020-21 Guidelines for Return to Participation.”
The recommendations and requirements for athletes, coaches, officials, fans and staff are the next step in preparing for a compressed sports schedule that will run Dec. 21 to June 26 and have each sport play 60 percent of its typically allotted regular-season games. Practices for the winter sports begins Dec. 7 with basketball. Fall sports practices start in February, and spring sports practices start in April.
The VHSL’s Executive Committee adopted the compressed sports schedule July 27. On Sept. 17, the VHSL’s executive committee approved the regular-season and postseason formats.
Although each school division has the final say in whether to allow high school sports to go forward and, if so, in what form, VHSL’s document provides clarity on how athletics can operate due to the pandemic.
“It’s more than just a starting point,” said Patriot High School activities director Brad Qualls. “It’s more of a here you go in rolling it out. Then the county must decide what it wants to do.”
Even though high school students are not scheduled to return to in-person instruction until late January at the earliest, Prince William County Public Schools continues to plan for the return of high school sports practices and games. The county will permit students to attend practices and games while high school classes remain virtual.
The Manassas City school board is still discussing whether its schools, including Osbourn High School, will have a winter sports season. Classes at Manassas City schools remain virtual for now.
Manassas Park Public Schools still plans on allowing sports seasons to start Dec. 7. Manassas Park High School has a Feb. 16 return date for its students in a hybrid form.
VHSL director of communications Mike McCall said he had not heard of any school divisions cancelling their winter sports seasons.
“But we would not be surprised that it could happen if divisions are having a COVID surge in infections,” McCall said.
One requirement that remains in place is that attendance for all statewide athletic events remains at a maximum of 250 people, including participants.
Activities directors for the 16-school Class 6 Region B, which includes 11 Prince William high schools and Osbourn, met Thursday to discuss how to accommodate spectators depending on the sport. In some cases like football and basketball, there may not be enough space to allow fans after participants, game-day workers, staff and officials are factored in.
The activities directors plan on looking at an online ticketing service that can reserve a certain number of spots for the home and visiting teams based on capacity and guidelines.
“As we figure out logistics, we might not have fans to avoid contact between players and spectators,” Qualls said.
For those spectators who can’t attend games in person, the National Federation of State High School Associations’ network offers a subscription streaming service for live sporting events. Two years ago, cameras were equipped in each county high school’s football stadium and gym that allows schools to broadcast games without announcers. Patriot, for one, plans to add cameras on its baseball and softball fields.
A monthly subscription costs $10.99 and an annual subscription is $69.99.
McCall said VHSL Executive Director Billy Haun will continue to lobby the governor’s office and the Virginia Department of Health about raising the capacity limit. McCall said the state is open to discussions about upgrading its current restrictions.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam helped the state’s high school sports seasons to continue on schedule by signing the fourth amendment of Executive Order 67 last week.
“The reason Northam’s amendment to Executive Order 67 was significant for us is that it removed all language that required 10-foot social distancing,” McCall said. “We were always subject to the Governor’s Phase III guidelines that did not allow social distancing of less than 6 to 10-feet which would have prohibited high contact sports. That is
Some other items to note from the VHSL’s Guidelines for Return to Participation:
The VHSL said athletes practicing or playing do not have to wear masks but cheerleaders performing on the sidelines at contests, “fans, working event staff, non-competing participants and coaches must wear face coverings at all times”
Other sports-specific requirements include:
Baseball players cannot leave the dugout to “congratulate players when scoring or after home runs.” No seeds, gum or spitting are allowed either.
In basketball, the visiting team will have the first possession to start the game.
In football, the team box will be extended on both sides of the field to the 20-yard line for players only to allow for more social distancing space for the teams.
Wrestling is limited to dual and tri-matches with the possibility of quad-matches that must be approved by the VHSL. Each wrestling match will run for one minute in the first period followed by two-minute second and third periods.
No face-offs or body checks are allowed in boys lacrosse and no draws are allowed in girls lacrosse.
In soccer, teams cannot form a wall to defend free kicks to maintain social distancing. Instead, players must remain three feet apart on direct and indirect kicks.
Other sports-specific recommendations include:
In cross country, meets should use staggered, wave or interval starts.