After months of uncertainty in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Virginia high school sports will finally return in December.
On Thursday, Governor Ralph Northam cleared the way for high school sports to resume and for the Virginia High School League (VHSL) to proceed with its Championship +1 schedule when he signed the fourth amendment of Executive Order 67, adjusting statewide restrictions on recreational sports.
In a press release published Friday, VHSL executive director Dr. John Haun said: “This amendment by the Governor clears the way for all of our sports to play. 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, and the Virginia Department of Education.”
After receiving the go-ahead on Thursday, the VHSL released its extensive mitigation guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year.
The guidelines offer general guidance for the resumption of athletics as well as specific recommendations for individual sports. It also outlines health and safety precautions for athletes, coaches, school staff and officials such as wearing masks, social distancing, disinfecting equipment and high-use surface areas, etc.
Specifically, the guidelines call for a number of restrictions including athletes and coaches bringing and using their own water bottle, not sharing equipment or towels, maintaining six feet of physical distance during competitions, and completing personal daily health screenings before going to school, among other things.
“The modifications outlined in ‘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,” the VHSL release said.
Rodney Harmon, coach of the junior varsity boys basketball team at Phoebus High School in Hampton Virginia, told The Virginia Star he and his students were happy sports are returning, but also stressed the importance of following the necessary protocols.
“Oh, the athletes are happy because they were unsure if they were going to play or not this year. They want to get out in the gym and are ready to play,” Harmon said. “As long as everybody follows the protocols, yes, I think we should be able to safely get through the season.”
Harmon also mentioned how the lack of sports can negatively impact students who excel athletically and academically, but cannot afford to pay for college, depending on high school athletics to receive scholarships.
Despite Northam’s changes permitting indoor and outdoor sporting activities, the executive action did not change the number of attendees allowed at sporting events, remaining at 250 people or not exceeding 50 percent of occupancy requirements.
Teams that are conducting off-season workouts must continue to follow the proper state guidelines, regardless of adjustments allowed for in-season teams, according to the release.
Under the Championship +1 schedule, which was adopted in July by the VHSL executive committee, there will be three condensed seasons for sports with winter sports such as basketball, wrestling and gymnastic beginning competition on December 28th.
As long as Virginia remains in phase 3 of Northam’s opening plans, the schedule and guidelines will not need to change, but if COVID conditions worsen or improve around the state then adjustments will be made.
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