The high school winter sports season is scheduled to begin in exactly one month, but with new COVID-19 restrictions put in place by Gov. Ralph Northam this week high schools are still playing a waiting game when it comes to the return of sports.
Henry County Public Schools Director of Student Services Matt Woods said in an email this week that HCPS will follow the Virginia High School League’s condensed Championship-Plus One schedule the league currently plans to begin in December. Under the VHSL’s current plan, basketball would begin practices on December 7 and the first games would be played on December 21. Other winter sports – wrestling, indoor track, swimming, and diving – would begin practices on December 14.
HCPS schools, which include Bassett and Magna Vista High Schools, have gone back to all virtual learning until January, but teams are still allowed to hold out-of-season workouts.
“Currently, various teams are doing conditioning while following safety procedures and guidance provided by the VHSL. Team members are adhering to protocols and working out safely,” Woods said.
Part of the workouts include wearing face coverings at all times unless 10 feet of physical distancing can be maintained, Woods said. Athletes also have their temperatures checked before they can participate in workouts.
Student athletes are not being tested for COVID-19 at this time, Woods said.
According to Woods, HCPS routinely reviews division procedures and protocols to remain in compliance with current Virginia Department of Health and VHSL protocols, and with additional guidance they will update their guidelines once official practices begin.
Patrick County High School is currently doing in-person classes part-time and also allowing out of season workouts for teams. PCHS Athletic Director Terry Harris said in a phone call Friday the workouts are mostly for conditioning and injury reduction after months of layoff.
“It’s going well. It’s mostly we’re trying just to get the kids back in some type of shape where they haven’t been in the gyms or on the field in so long,” Harris said.
PCHS pulled the protocols for workouts straight from the VHSL’s guidelines. Under Phase III athletes are allowed to pass a ball back and forth with cleaning periodically. They also must keep 10 feet of distance during workouts.
Harris said coaches are doing more dumbbell and individual work in the weight room so spotters aren’t needed and social distancing can be maintained.
“It’s tough. The coaches have got to be creative in what they’re doing just like the teachers have had to be creative all year in the classroom,” Harris said.
The PCHS school board will meet again before the official start of the winter sports season to decide if teams will be allowed to play games, Harris said, though he said a date on that meeting hasn’t been set as of Friday.
Even with some or all virtual learning, Woods and Harris both said their schools will adhere to attendance expectations just like in a normal year. In any other year, students must attend class to participate in sports practices and games the same day.
“Students are still required to be in compliance with the attendance expectations set forth by their schools to be eligible to compete,” Woods said.
Harris said teachers will follow normal attendance guidelines even for virtual classes.
If a student in Henry County or Patrick County opts out of in-class learning, they will still be permitted to play sports, “pending proper eligibility requirements are met and maintained,” Woods said.
Both Harris and Woods said a final decision has not been made about allowing spectators at games once games begin in late December.
Northam announced this week new mandates in Virginia that restrict sporting events to just 25 spectators, down from 250 allowed as part of Phase III in the coronavirus reopening plan. The VHSL clarified that Northam’s reduction applies to spectators at events, and does not include participants.
Participants at events, the VHSL said in a release, include players, coaches, officials, media, law enforcement, school administration and event staff critical to the operations of the contests, and medical services. Cheerleaders, bands, and other student support groups are counted as spectators in the limit of 25 allowed at events.
The Piedmont District, which houses Bassett, Magna Vista, Martinsville, and Patrick County as well as Tunstall, G.W.-Danville and Halifax County High Schools, had previously met as a group and come up with a plan to allow parents and spectators at games, Harris said. The group felt they would be able to allow home and away fans at most venues, however Harris said that was before the governor’s new mandates.
“Most likely each school will just let home parents in,” Harris said. “Nothing like that is going to be able to take place until some of these restrictions are lifted quite a bit.”
Woods said if spectators are allowed, they will be expected to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines.
Tommy Golding, Athletic Director at Martinsville High School, said in a phone call Friday he plans to meet with school and city officials on Monday to discuss the start of the winter sports season. Martinsville has not yet allowed teams to start working out with classes still all virtual.
Jennifer Doss, a spokesperson for Carlisle School, said in an email this week the school is not ready to release details on their plans for winter sports.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor for the Martinsville Bulletin. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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