Many athletic directors and coaches throughout the Fredericksburg area anxiously awaited Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement Tuesday on the plan to reopen public schools in Virginia.
They were hoping it would provide clarity for the Virginia High School League to move forward in restarting high school sports.
However, they remain in limbo as the VHSL released a statement later in the afternoon stating that it will wait until its June 25 Executive Committee meeting to determine when athletics can begin again after the COVID-19 pandemic shut down high school sports in March.
The VHSL states it will now begin the process to align the governor’s Phase II and Phase III plan with the work of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. Those findings will be shared with the Executive Committee ahead of its meeting later this month.
The VHSL will then distribute the guidelines to local school divisions who will develop plans for reopening.
“Once we review the documents provided by the Governor to reopen schools, we will move as quickly as possible to develop guidelines that will align with his plans,” VHSL executive director Billy Haun said in the release. “It is important to say that these guidelines must also align with local school divisions and superintendents reopening plans under Phase II and III.”
No school will be allowed to enter Phase II or Phase III before it submits to the Virginia Department of Education a plan outlining its strategies for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The plans must comply with Center for Disease Control and Virginia Department of Health recommendations.
“There is still work to be done before these guidelines can be put in place to reopen athletic activities,” Haun said.
The VDH recommends that no sports competitions take place in Phase II unless social distancing guidelines can be followed.
Clark Mercer, Northam’s Chief of Staff, said there are three key factors to be considered: common sense, intentional vs. incidental contact and shared equipment.
Mercer, a former high school soccer coach, said sports with intentional contact such as tackle football will be prohibited in Phase II. He noted that quarterbacks can throw to receivers who are wearing gloves. Soccer drills can be conducted without throw-ins. Baseball can be played because players typically don’t share bats and helmets anymore.
Mercer said once schools enter Phase II indoor athletic facilities will be allowed to be at 30 percent capacity or hold up to 50 people, whichever is the least amount. He said outdoor facilities can hold up to 50 people or be at 50 percent capacity, whichever is the least.
Athletic directors in the area are still attempting to dissect the information coming their way. Veteran Courtland AD Ronnie Lowman said he has no plans to allow the Cougars to do anything until the VHSL provides direction after its Executive Committee meeting.
Lowman said he expects the VHSL to lean heavily on a 16-page document detailing reopening plans released by the National Federation of State High School Associations last month.
“A lot of our rules come from the federation,” Lowman said. “So they’re definitely going to lean on that document for a lot of directives. They’re obviously going to mold it to what we’re dealing with specifically in Virginia.”