No High School Sports In Virginia This Fall

VHSL Plans Condensed Seasons Starting In December

The Virginia High School League Executive Committee Monday announced its athletic plan for the upcoming school year, voting to delay the start of sports until mid-December, with condensed seasons for each team. The decision is intended to allow more time for the state to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, which led to the cancellation of this year’s spring season.

Meeting in special session in a video conference, the VHSL Executive Committee voted 34-1 to move forward with the third model, the Condensed Interscholastic Plan, presented in its July 15 meeting. In this model, each team will play about 60 percent of its normal regular season, with winter sports starting Dec. 14 and going until Feb. 15, with Dec. 28 as the first competition date. Those sports include basketball, indoor track and field, swimming and wrestling.

Fall sports – football, volleyball, golf, cross country and cheerleading – would start Feb. 15 and go until May 1, with March 1 as the first competition date. Spring sports – baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis and track and field – will start April 12 and go until June 26, with April 26 as the first competition.

Explaining the decision, VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun said, “We all understand the physical and mental health benefits of getting our students back to a level of participation. The Condensed Interscholastic Plan leaves open the opportunity to play all sports in all three seasons if Virginia moves beyond Phase III and/ or Phase III guidelines are revised and high risk activities are allowed. This plan also allows schools the opportunity to open the year and get school started and deal with issues such as schedules, academic plans, transportation, dealing with possible outbreaks of [COVID-19] in the school.

“The VHSL will continue to work closely with the best available information and directives provided by the governor, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education,” Haun added.

Athletic teams will still be able to practice, following guidelines provided by the VDH.

After the decision, the two local high school athletic directors, Rockbridge County’s Mike Gale and Parry McCluer’s Mike Cartolaro, reacted.

Gale, who replaced Rick Lollis as RC’s athletic director at the beginning of this month, said, “I was hoping they would let the low risk sports such as golf and cross country compete in the fall. My understanding is that they were concerned that if we had to go back to Phase II and shut things down, those sports would be canceled for the year. However, playing golf in February could get interesting.”

Many golf courses are closed in February, and the Lexington Golf & Country Club may be undergoing renovations then, meaning golfers would have limited options of where to play.

Gale said that the model chosen “gives us more time and doesn’t cancel anyone’s season at this point.”

Model 1 had allowed for golf and cross country in the fall. An option Cartolaro and other athletic directors in the Pioneer District were pushing for was Model 2, which would’ve allow the low and moderate infection risk sports that normally take place in the spring to take place in the fall. However, soccer was reclassified by the VHSL as a high contact risk sport last week, so the model would not have allowed soccer or lacrosse, another high contact risk sport.

Cartolaro, in his second year as PM’s athletic director, said the Executive Committee voted on the option it felt was the safest. “Just being able to open school and conduct school halfway normal would be plenty to have to be concerned with,” he said. “It’s like what we’ve been doing on all levels in the country. We’ve been bumping or postponing.”

The VHSL Executive Committee is scheduled to meet again on Aug. 24 to finalize schedules and address unanswered questions.

Cartolaro said one of those questions will be how teams will conduct their shortened regular seasons. In football, for example, teams would have six regular-season games. He said he and Gale spoke about plans for RC and PM to play each other, and they could do so if their one nondistrict game was against each other. Other districts have more than six schools and would not be able to play every team in the district.

Reacting to the news of not having football in the fall, fourth-year PM head football coach Mark Wheeler said, “Although it is very disappointing, we have to keep in mind what is really going on. People are continuing to get sick and people are dying. I’m extremely old school, in that my heart wants to get us on the field and playing right now, but my head is telling me to take as many precautions as possible because the safety of our players and my coaching staff has to come first.”

The PM football team is doing on-field conditioning once a week, dividing the practice field into four sections to allow social distancing. Conditioning will involve drills, jumping exercises, and wind sprints. There will be no contact between players and no footballs being used.