The Petersburg City School Board voted 6-1 in a virtual meeting last week to move forward with high school winter sports during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The school board’s decision allows for the return of high school boys and girls basketball, indoor track and field, wrestling as well as cheerleading, and came just a couple weeks after the body had originally voted on December 16 to cancel winter sports because of the virus.
“Congratulations coach [William] Lawson,” school board chairman Kenneth Pritchett said after the vote. “And to the students, we look forward to you all bringing back the state championship trophy.”
During the meeting Pritchett also mentioned that more than 16 students from Petersburg City Public Schools (PCPS) had called him to advocate for their winter sports season and that he was happy so many had taken the initiative to reach out by themselves.
Several players also spoke during the school board meeting to argue for playing winter sports.
“I want the season to continue because many of us guys have a love and passion for the game,” said Jaden Walker, a senior basketball player at Petersburg High School. “And most of us want to go far in life and make our parents proud to see us succeed.”
Janai Houston, who is also a senior basketball player, said she was hurt down to her soul when the season was initially canceled and even offered to quit her job outside of school to make sure she is safe to play. One student-athlete told the board that basketball is much more than a sport for the team and it keeps students in school and out of trouble.
A large part of the PCPS return to sports are the protocols and guidance that have been put in place for what coaches need to be doing, hygiene and cleaning, equipment use, traveling to games, etc.
Specifically, there will be no spectators or visitors allowed at events, not even parents. Only the players, coaches and trainers are attending in-person, but games will be live streamed on the Petersburg High School Athletics YouTube channel, according to Lawson, who also serves as the PCPS Athletics Director on top of his coaching responsibilities.
All players and coaches will be screened for signs or symptoms of COVID-19 before practices and games, but will not be required to have a negative test before participating. If one COVID case occurs with any student athletes or coaches, regardless of the sport, then the school division will cancel or postpone that sport for the academic year.
“As a health professional, I feel really comfortable that they have [procedures] in place that can not only get things started, but if you do have an incident or something, that their policies will be able to handle it and make the appropriate decisions based on what’s going on at the time,” said Dr. Bobby Duhart, who works as a pediatrician for Central Virginia Health Services in Downtown Petersburg.
Despite the near unanimous vote, a few school board members had some concerns.
Atiba Muse, who abstained from voting, brought up that many young people can be asymptomatic while infected with COVID while discussing students not being required to be tested. Separately, Bernard Lundy said he was concerned that athletes and coaches are at risk of contracting the virus because they go home and other places after playing sports.
Many other school divisions Besides PCPS, like Charlottesville City and Orange County, have already decided to go ahead with winter sports. Other localities such as Richmond and Henrico County have made the other choice to cancel their seasons.
According to the Virginia High School League, as of Saturday, 23 school divisions and 39 individual high schools from different areas are not participating in winter sports this year.
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