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Sports

Framework for sports’ return takes shape

SoVaNow.com / June 11, 2020
All across America sports fans have been wondering when the games will begin in earnest again.

People in South Boston and Halifax are no different. They have been anxious for sports to return.

The Virginia High School League announced Tuesday it would immediately begin working on guidelines to return students to athletics and other extracurricular activities. Aside from sports, the VHSL also sanctions some school educational activities, such as quiz bowl and forensics competitions.

Mike McCall, VHSL communications director, said with the announcement of Gov. Northam’s plan to reopen K-12 public schools in Virginia, VHSL staff would begin the process of aligning the Governor’s Phase II & Phase III Plan with the existing work of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC). The blended guidelines will then be shared with the executive committee. Ultimately, the VHSL will advise local school boards on guidelines for the resumption of athletic activities.

Governor Ralph Northam’s framework to reopen schools is split into three phases, similar to the previously announced schedule for reopening Virginia to normal business and civic activiy. With most of Virginia in Phase II of the reopening scheme, local school divisions, including Halifax County, also fall under Phase II of the school reopening framework.

There’s much work ahead, however, for local school officials before the state signs off on any specifics for the resumption of sports.

“Before entering Phase II or III, the public health commissioner has ordered that every public and private school in Virginia will be required to submit to the VDOE (Virginia department of Education) a plan outlining their strategies for mitigating public health risk of COVID-19 and comply with CDC and VDH recommendations,” said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “There is still work to be done before these guidelines can be put in place to reopen athletic activities.”

The reality of the plan is high school sports will have a very different look this year. And even with all the work going sports, getting students back in school is the top priority.

Under Phase II, “Athletics should be limited to individual or team-based practice, skill-building drills or conditioning activities that allow maintenance of physical distancing at all times.”

For football, the highest profile of all fall sports, that means teams can conduct non-contact drills with certain safety measures in place — receivers practicing their passing routes while wearing gloves, for instance.

The general idea is to avoid the transmission of COVID-19 through steps such as not sharing equipment, limiting physical contact, and, with sports such as soccer, changing patterns of play — such as doing away with throwing the ball in from the sideline into a scrum of players.

Attendance at games and practices will also be limited, at least for now.

Public gatherings under Phase II are set at 30 percent capacity of a given indoor venue, and 50 percent for outdoor sites, with a maximum of 50 people, indoors or outdoors. Morever, coaches, players and spectators will be subject to social distancing guidelines.

In the final Phase III, school divisions will return to a “new-normal” for instructional and extracurricular operations in consultation with public health officials. The Governor’s Office indicated that Phase 2 will continue for at least the next two weeks, and will be reevaluated after that.

HCHS Athletic Director Allen Lawter has always said he welcomes any news that can safely get kids back in school and Comet athletics returning to competition.

“We look forward to seeing what the VHSL comes up with for guidelines,” Lawter said. “We are anxious to start planning for the upcoming year.”





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