I.C. Norcom at Hopewell high school football

Hopewell’s TreVeyon Henderson (4) hauls in a catch en route to a touchdown against I.C. Norcom. Henderson scored three touchdowns in the Region 3A semifinal victory.

The Virginia High School League wants sports to return this fall, even though it is unclear how schools will function in the upcoming semester. Henrico County, for example, is considering hybrid learning plans in which students take half their classes online and half in person.

While it's unclear if school districts will even allow competition this fall as COVID-19 continues to affect the Commonwealth, the VHSL is urging athletes to be allowed back on the field.

"The VHSL believes it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of students to return to physical activity and athletic competition," the league said in guidelines released Friday.

The call for sports to return comes even as the league acknowledges there is a "near certainty of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months."

It also acknowledged that school district may enact different policies that create inequities between teams, that there likely will be a variation in what sports and activities are allowed in the next year, that teams might be forced to suspend play during the season if an outbreak occurs and that seasons might end without playoffs being conducted.

Teams were given the green light to resume out-of-season practice on Monday, and school divisions have been working to submit plans to the Virginia Department of Education on how they intend to safely conduct practice. Some teams hope to begin practice as early as this Monday, and others project early July for their start dates.

On Friday, the VHSL issued its guidelines for teams that are returning to practice amid the Phase Two restrictions set for the Commonwealth by Gov. Ralph Northam. The guidelines are similar to the suggestions issued last month by the National Federation of High Schools.

Guidelines for Phase Three have not been determined.

Phase Two guidelines:

• Schools will be required to implement cleaning schedules for athletic facilities. It's recommended that facilities be cleaned every two hours. Before a facility is used, chairs, furniture, weight room equipment, bathrooms, training tables and other elements needs to be cleaned.

• Occupancy limits and distancing guidelines issued by the Virginia Department of Health must be maintained.

• Students must be encouraged to shower and wash their workout clothes as soon as they return home.

• Indoor practices and activities can be conducted if at least 10 feet of physical distance can be maintained at all times.

• Spectators won't be allowed.

• Athletes should work out in pods of the same five to 10 people every workout to limit exposure of the virus.

• Staff and students will be screened before the workout.

• Students should wear face coverings when distancing isn't possible. They are allowed to take off their masks when exercising.

• Coaches, officials and other personnel should wear face coverings at all times.

• Students must bring their own water bottles and cannot share them.

• Locker rooms can only be used if participants can keep a 10-foot distance. Showers should not be used at school.

• Physical contact such as high fives, fist bumps and hugs are not allowed.

• Distancing must be maintained in sports that have been deemed lower-risk: cross country, track and field, swimming, golf and tennis.

• Individual training and some limited practice are encouraged for moderate-risk sports: volleyball, field hockey, gymnastics, soccer, baseball, softball and basketball. Balls should not be passed from one player to another.

• For higher-risk sports, individual training is encouraged, balls cannot be handed off or thrown to one another, physical contact is not allowed, and there should be nos sharing of equipment. These sports include football, wrestling, lacrosse and cheerleading.

ekolenich@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6109

@EricKolenich

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