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Draft calendar emerges for high school sports / August 26, 2020

The Virginia High School League met on Monday to continue discussions on resuming high school athletics and developed a draft schedule for fall, winter and spring sports, called the “Championships + 1” calendar.

VHSL executive director John W. Billy Haun said many hours have been spent producing the calendar which keeps 60 percent of contest in place for all sports. The draft document draws on input from the various stakeholders — coaches, athletic directors/principals, and superintendent representatives — from their respective regions who met over the past 10 days to accomplish the task.

Haun stressed the calendar is a work in progress, and not a final product.

“I want to be clear that this work session was not intended to produce a final plan,” Haun said. “The purpose of the work session was to provide a draft to the Executive Committee for the FY2021 sports and academic season and for the process of building a plan for regular season and postseason. The various staff meetings with coaches, athletic directors, principals, and superintendent representatives discussed at length the challenges, including health, safety, and financial considerations of implementing any schedule options.

“We appreciate the hard work and feedback our region athletic directors, coaches, principals, and other representatives provided to our staff during region meetings and through our coaches advisory committees. Our newly formed Student Advisory Committee also provided invaluable feedback as well. The VHSL is fortunate to have a dedicated group of school administrators and coaches who are working tirelessly during these unprecedented times on behalf of all students, as we plan for athletics and academic activities for the upcoming year.”

The VHSL’s current model reflects the Condensed Interscholastic Plan, which moves the start of all sports to December. This plan was the only option of three that offers the possibility of all sports being able to compete amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Bluestone High School’s varsity basketball and golf coach, George Lancaster, said last week he could see Bluestone having 12 games on the basketball schedule this season. The draft plan allows for 14 games to be played in the regular season.

Basketball practice would begin on Dec. 7 with the first game on Dec. 21. Region playoffs would run five days, from Feb. 8 to Feb. 13, and VHSL state semifinals and the championship game would be held on Feb. 16 and Feb. 20, respectively.

When Lancaster spoke of teams he was looking to compete with this season, they were all teams within the James River District. Teams are not being encouraged to do a lot of traveling this season due to ongoing outbreaks of COVID-19, though schools can still decide which teams they will play.

The balance of the winter sports is this: gymnastics, indoor track, swim & dive, wrestling, and sideline cheer begin practice a week later than basketball, Dec. 21. The first contest for these sports are scheduled for Dec. 28, with the exception of cheer which starts Jan. 6.

Looking at fall sports, football would have six games and begin practice on Feb. 4. The first game is scheduled for Feb. 22, with the region playoffs from April 7-17. Football is the only sport that’s afforded two rounds of regional playoffs in the draft calendar.

Volleyball would have up to 12 games on the schedule, with eight matches for golf, six for cross country, and 10 for field hockey. Practice would start on Feb. 15. Competition cheer would kick off practice on the same day as football — cheer would be limited to a three-contest season — with season action starting on March 1 for all of these sports.

The spring season would boast the most games/contests allowed, across the board for all sports. Baseball and softball can schedule up to 12 games, soccer and tennis 10 each, and lacrosse and track & field can have nine meets.

All spring sports start practice on April 12, with the first contests on April 26. Tennis is the exception, beginning matches on April 21.

The draft plan lets teams that didn’t make region competition play an extra game on the season, as long as the games take place before the regional playoff end date.

Yet with all the best of planning, a lot still needs to happen for some of the high risk sports like football and basketball to resume. A main issue: Virginia is still in Phase 3 of its recovery model for COVID-19 and is not allowing high risk sports to take place under Phase 3.

High risk sports — basketball, field hockey, football, boys and girls lacrosse, cheer, wrestling, and volleyball — are dependent on Virginia moving past Phase 3 or allowing high risk sports to be played in Phase 3.

As Lancaster, who is a member of the VHSL’s opinion committee and a VHSL Hall of Fame coach said, “Kids want to play. And I want to see that, too, but we must be mindful of the kid’s safety, always safety first.”

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