VHSL Releases Guidelines

League Addresses Safety Protocols, Fan Capacity

Taking a step toward resuming sports in December, the Virginia High School League released its “Guidelines for Return to Participation” on Friday that provide mitigation rules for schools to ensure a safe reopening of sports and activities. In addition to the 39-page document of guidelines, the VHSL also addressed fan capacity at sporting events.

The news came after Gov. Ralph Northam signed the fourth amended Executive Order 67 to say that the Condensed Interscholastic Plan is officially on. The executive order included changes to Section 12 related to recreational sports. These changes allow the VHSL Championship + 1 schedule to begin Dec. 21 as scheduled, with winter sports first. Although teams have been working out and conditioning, following the COVID-19 protocols, the first official practices for the winter teams will be Dec. 7. Under the Condensed Interscholastic Plan, each team will play about 60 percent of its normal regular-season schedule. Winter sports will conclude in late February, fall sports are scheduled to run from late February to May 1, and spring sports are slated to run from mid-April to late June.

“Keeping our student athletes safe is critical during this pandemic,” said Northam in a statement on Friday. “I know I join many parents in looking forward to the safe return of school sports. VHSL has been a tremendous partner throughout the COVID crisis, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness and diligence they have put in development of these guidelines for returning to play.”

Also making a statement was VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “This amendment by the governor clears the way for all of our sports to play,” said Haun. “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,” added Haun.

The VHSL stated that the guidelines “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. Recommendations include cleaning and disinfecting, mask protocols, transportation, and how to run activities safely for individual sports and activities.”

The athletic directors at Rockbridge County and Parry McCluer high schools reacted to this news on Friday.

Following a meeting with other Pioneer District athletic directors on Friday afternoon, PM athletic director Mike Cartolaro said the news “really came as a surprise. We knew the mitigation policy would be out today or Monday. … We didn’t expect that part from the governor coming out. We still have to treat it with all protocols in place.”

The amended executive order did not change the number of attendees permitted at a sporting event, which cannot exceed 50 percent of the facility’s capacity or 250 people. Attendees at sporting events are limited to 250 people per field, gym or other venue. That number includes all personnel: players, coaches, managers, fans, officials, cheerleaders and staff.

Cartolaro added that there is “a lot to be discussed,” including how the school is going to control fan capacity. He said he and other leaders at PM will work out the details of who can sit together. He noted that fans will have to wear masks and maintain a distance from each other of at least six feet. He hopes that, when outdoor sports are scheduled start in late February, since it is safer to be outdoors, more fans will be allowed.

RC athletic director Mike Gale said that RC and the rest of the schools in the Valley District are still working on the mitigation plan for fan capacity, but he had an idea of what it would look like. “At this point, it looks like each player will be allotted two tickets when possible,” said Gale. “No other tickets will be available to the public. Family members will be allowed to sit together, but everyone else should be at least six feet apart, and all fans are expected to wear a mask at all times indoors and outdoors.”

For fans who can’t get to sporting events due to capacity limits, PM has plans to livestream games so fans can watch them online. Cartolaro said a lot of the schools will livestream the events either through the website www.hudl.com or through the National Federation of State High School Associations. www.nfhs.org.

PM has experience with livestreaming, Cartolaro noted, with sports information director Chris Floyd and others broadcasting the events on Facebook. Moving forward, Floyd will be the game announcer, and video cameras will be set up at different angles for people to view the action.

In the interest of safety, the VHSL’s guidelines highlighted key changes to sports. Participants are not required to wear a mask while in action, but they must wear a mask at all other times during a competition.

In football, the pregame coin toss at midfield will now include only each team’s coach and one official.

The jump ball at the start of a basketball game will be eliminated, with the visiting team getting the first possession, followed by alternating possession each subsequent period. A coin toss will determine possession in the case of overtime.

Volleyball teams will not be allowed to switch ends of the floor between games. Coaches must come to a mutual agreement about whether it is a disadvantage to coach from one end of the court while the team is playing on the other end.

Wrestling will be limited to dual meets and tri-meets, with the possibility of quad meets that must be approved by the VHSL. Each wrestler can have only one coach seated in his corner, rather than the usual two. Each match will be shortened, with a one-minute first period followed by two-minute second and third periods.

In baseball and softball, pitchers will not be allowed to blow on their hands during play. The home plate umpire is charged with stopping the game to sanitize the ball and the pitcher’s hands.

For cross country meets, staggered, wave or interval starts are advised. Widening any bottlenecks on the course to at least six feet is recommended.

In competition cheerleading, face masks are encouraged, but stunting while wearing a face covering should be allowed only with the unanimous consent of athletes, parents and school administrators.

In boys lacrosse, periods will be shortened to 10 minutes. No faceoffs will take place. A coin toss will determine opening possession, followed by alternating possession. No body checks will be allowed. In girls lacrosse, no draws will take place. The visitor will get the first possession, followed by alternating possession.

For soccer, the “wall” will no longer be allowed as a defense against free kicks because of social distancing. The clock will stop near the halfway point of each half for sanitization.

In swimming, officials should limit the number of swimmers in each lane.

For tennis matches, schools are advised to use two cans of different-numbered balls per match, with each player or doubles team handling only one set of balls.

Updated schedules for the the RC and PM sports teams can be found at the athletic websites for the schools, with RC’s at www.rockbridgeathletics.org and PM’s at www.pmhs. bvcps.net/sports.

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