Moments after the Virginia High School League released a statement Thursday afternoon that athletic programs can start out-of-season practice on Monday, administrators around the Fredericksburg area saw their phones go abuzz.
Coaches and athletes have been sidelined since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic and were eager to get going again.
However, they’ll have to wait a little longer.
“I’ve already e-mailed our coaches and said, ‘Don’t even think of starting on Monday,’” Caroline AD Paul Heizer said. “It’s no way we’ll have this finalized in one work day.”
The VHSL’s Executive Committee voted Wednesday to reinstate out-of-season practice 27-7-1. It also suspended the traditional summer “dead period” for all athletic teams during the week of June 29-July 4. That suspension only applies to this year.
“The VHSL Executive Committee believes that getting students back into some level of education-based activities will be supportive of their physical and mental health and well-being,” VHSL Executive Director Billy Haun said in the statement. “Allowing students and coaches the opportunity to begin out-of-season extracurricular activities and athletics will allow school communities the ability to begin moving in a positive direction.”
But there’s plenty of work to be done first.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan for Phase II of reopening public schools calls for each school division to submit plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to the Virginia Department of Education.
Northam’s directive was just announced Tuesday and Fredericksburg area school divisions have yet to submit their plan and have the VDOE approve them.
Heizer and Courtland AD Ronnie Lowman said June 22 is the earliest they envision Caroline County and Spotsylvania County schools hitting the field.
Mountain View athletic director Greg Margheim said in Stafford County the process will take “a couple of weeks” as the school system collects information from nurses and others in central office before submitting a plan.
James Monroe AD-in waiting Kenton Griffin, who will officially take over July 1, said he’s been in contact with Fredericksburg City Schools deputy superintendent John Russ and they’re working together to craft a plan to submit to the VDOE as soon as possible.
King George AD Alex Fisher said he’s also communicating with front office staff to formulate a plan.
“There are still a lot of unknowns,” Fisher said.
Despite the uncertainty of a start date, athletes and coaches were thrilled to learn the news.
North Stafford football coach Neil Sullivan said although he’s sent players home workouts, it’s beneficial to have conditioning time together before it gets closer to the potential kickoff of the season, which is also unclear.
Lowman said the Cougars are anxious to take the field. But he cautioned that workouts and drills will be much different than anyone is accustomed to.
Northam’s Chief of Staff, Clark Mercer, said on Tuesday that sports with “intentional contact” and “shared equipment” are still prohibited in Phase II. For example, there will be no tackle football and soccer practices will have to be conducted without throw-ins.
Still, it’s a start.
“Kids need athletics and kids need school,” Lowman said. “Coaches need kids and coaches need schools. This is definitely a positive. We just have to proceed with extreme caution and make sure we have safety in mind for everyone.”