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‘Hope is all we have right now’

South Boston News / May 21, 2020

The Virginia High School League issued a statement Tuesday stating its desire to get student-athletes back in competition as soon as safely possible.

The VHSL’s Mike McCall explained the decision to return to competition will need to clear several hurdles.

“To ensure all compliance with possible state directives from the Governor, Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the CDC with the reopening of schools for the fall of 2020, the Virginia High School League is developing plans for the reopening of fall athletics and activities by putting the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes, student-activity participants, coaches, administrators, officials and supporters first. In all instances, reopening will only happen in accordance with the Governor’s directives on when to return to school, when schools can return to practice, and when schools can return to competition.

“VHSL staff continues to meet regularly with region superintendents, principals, athletic directors, and the VHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC). VHSL staff will begin meeting with Coach Advisory Committees of fall sports to discuss developing reopening plans. VHSL is drawing input to provide answers to the questions: How and when do VHSL sports and activities return? The goal is to develop plans for multiple scenarios related to start dates, safety measures for resuming practices, regular season schedules, and state playoffs for fall sports.”

The VHSL noted it would be looking towards the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) to provide guidelines as to how sports programs can restart. Saying the NFHS’ Sports Medicine Advisory Committee will use the National Federation of State High School Association Sports Medicine Advisory Committee Guidance for Opening Up High School Athletics and Activities to create guidelines for Virginia’s schools.

Less than 24-hours after that announcement, the NFHS stated they had developed a set of guidelines for member schools to follow as they prepared for a fall sport season.

“[The] NFHS guidance document describes a staged approach to re-opening high school sports and other activities, similar to the phases of “opening up” outlined by the White House last month.

The committee suggests that state high school associations consult with their state and local health departments for determining the appropriate dates for implementing a phased-in approach within their respective states,” The organization stated in its release.

This will come as good news to high school student-athletes ready to return to school and to sports.

Halifax County High School athletics director Alan Lawter said there are still a lot of unknowns but he was happy to see the VHSL moving towards having a fall sports season.

“It’s good to see them working on something to give us some hope,” Lawter said. “None of us really know what’s in store over the next several months to the rest of the year actually. Hope is all we have right now if you think about it.

“It’s good to know that we’re getting people together trying to work on different possibilities. It’s going to be interesting to see the different scenarios they come up with.”

Lawter said he feels the VHSL is trying to do the best thing possible for all stakeholders involved. He expressed the VHSL is a decent organization and has some good folks working for what’s best for the kids.

“There are some good people at VHSL; that I do know” Lawter said. “Their goal is to get these kids back in action. So they’re gonna do it but at the same time they have to do it on a safe manner.

“Again it goes back to hope. They’re trying to get them out there as quick as they can.

“Still so many unknowns. They have to follow the direction of other groups, mainly the Department of Education. If we’re not in school we’re not playing sports. While they are coming up with scenarios they are still waiting to see what other entities are going to do above them.”

Lawter explained that the VHSL as well as other sports organizations were examining what other higher tiered sports programs are doing as they determine the best avenue to return to high school sports.

“They are going to follow a little bit of what the NCAA does,” Lawter continued. “And that’s not apples-to-apples because the VHSL doesn’t have the money the NCAA has. They can do some stuff that we can’t.

“And again all of our hope is that this thing (COVID-19) dies over the summer time and we can get back out there and before it comes back they come up with a vaccine, a treatment or whatever. So, I think yesterday’s message was a message of hope – these athletes aren’t forgotten. VHSL is going to get us back on the field and the court as quick as they can safely do it.”

Lawter said though the directives coming from higher up will help him and the Comets’ coaching staffs as they prepare; he and his coaches also have their own set of concerns. And though safety is always at the top of the list – coronavirus or not – a sports program requires several things to stay operational, including money.

“We have concerns, I talk to coaches; coaches have concerns,” Lawter said. “I have concerns. And it’s a wide range of concerns. One is money. If we don’t play football that’s a large portion of our budget to run the athletic program.

“And that’s what I meant about the difference between the NCAA and us. NCAA, at least the bigger schools, they can decide to have games without fans because they can televise and make some money. Now they’re still going to lose money but they will still make money because of the sponsorships. You know that’s tough for high schools.

“So one of the things is money. If we can’t get fans in the stands, yes we can get kids back on the field, but that’s still going to hurt our athletic programs financially.”

Another concern was the desire to play or not play once school does begin. Lawter saying keeping kids or adults focused during this time has been a challenge.

“One of the other concerns I have is and I’ve talked to coaches who have this concern; when kids come back – none of us know how this is going to play out - are we gonna lose people participating because now they have other interest. Or are we going to gain kids because they are eager to get back to it; those are unknowns for us.

“So those are things we’re thinking about. Coaches are trying to stay in contact with kids but you know … not just kids, but we all get bored and find other activities from what we we’re normally doing.

“So you know you got a lot of people discovering other interest or rediscovering other interest and how is that going to affect everything when we come back. So, that’s some of my concerns.”

Lawter says regardless of what happens you just can’t put the kids on the field or court and tell them you can practice but there will be no games. He stated by nature athletes have a desire not to just get better but to compete and win.

“Athletes are competitive and practice gets old even when you’re practicing as a group ‘cause they want to compete,” Lawter concluded. If you are in there trying to work out at home and stay focused and not competing, it’s also a concern. There just a lot of factors going on here that we just don’t know how they’re going to play out.”

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