Dr. D Sports: VHSL Moving Forward with Athletics

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed the fourth amended Executive Order 67 on Thursday which included changes to Section 12 related to recreational sports across the state that will allow the VHSL “Championship + 1” schedule to begin in December as planned.  

The VHSL released its “Guidelines for Return to Participation” for school divisions last week. The document provides guidance for schools to ensure a safe reopening of sports and activities. 

 “Keeping our student athletes safe is critical during this pandemic,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “I know I join many parents in looking forward to the safe return of school sports. The VHSL has been a tremendous partner throughout the COVID crisis, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness and diligence they have put in development of these guidelines for returning to play.”

 “This amendment by the Governor clears the way for all of our sports to play,” said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “We appreciate the time, effort, and input staff received while preparing this document. Adherence to these guidelines will offer a safe reopening for our students, coaches, staff, officials, and communities once we start playing in December. Additionally, we appreciate the close collaboration and guidance from the Governor’s office, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).”

 The amended Executive Order did not change the number of attendees permitted at a sporting event, which cannot exceed the lesser of 50% of the occupancy load or 250 persons. For sports played on a field, attendees are limited to 250 person per field. 

 The modifications outlined in the 37-page “Guidelines for Return to Participation” are meant to decrease potential exposure to respiratory droplets by encouraging social distancing, limiting participation in administrative tasks to essential personnel and allowing for appropriate protective equipment. Recommendations include cleaning and disinfecting; mask protocols; transportation; and how to run activities safely for individual sports and activities.

To see the full Guidelines for Return to Participation, visit https://drive.google.com/file/d/1cp1f3t2upN4yd4ahtfTyM29yYkiovcHj/view

The VHSL is also changing the guidelines for some sports to assist with mitigation efforts.

In basketball, there will be no jump ball to start the game but rather the visiting team will take possession of the ball first.

For overtimes, the two teams will flip a coin with the winner taking possession of the ball first.

Cross country will have staggered, wave or interval starts.

In volleyball, gloves will be allowed in competition. 

Social distancing will also be expected by all players and team personnel on the sidelines as well as for cheerleaders and fans in the stands.

There is no question our state high-school athletic directors will be extremely busy in working out all of the details and following the guidelines for mitigation that each sport will require.

Attendance for games, which right now is capped at 250, also brings up several questions.

One is who will be allowed to buy tickets for each game? The other is how the limited revenue from the lack of concessions and lowered ticket sales will affect the athletic budget for each school.

An uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases across the state this winter could also change the Governor’s guidelines where no spectators are allowed. 

Transportation may also be an issue. Due to social distancing, only 20 team members will be allowed to ride on a school bus. That will require double the number of buses and bus drivers needed for road games as varsity and JV teams typically travel together.

The other big question in our area is how many Tri-Rivers District teams will actually field winter sports teams this season.

Sussex-Central HS and Surry HS have already said they are not planning to participate in winter sports and Brunswick is still undecided. 

The Park View boys and girls basketball teams are scheduled to start conditioning this week and the cheerleaders plan to start next week.

A lot of questions should be answered in the next few weeks as schools make their final decisions about whether to play and team schedules are finalized.

Boys and girls basketball are scheduled to begin practice on December 7.