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VHSL releases Phase 3 guidelines





VHSL releases additional guidelines / June 22, 2020

The Virginia High School League issued another set of guidelines on Friday for the possible return of fall sports.

“Working in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Department of Education (DOE), the VHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) has developed a list of recommended guidelines for school divisions as they prepare for the safe reopening of high school sports and activities” stated the announcement in its opening.

VHSL Executive Director John W. “Billy” Haun said in the release that this additional set of guidelines was structured to help individual schools develop their own programs within their community.

“These VHSL guidelines are recommended for use as school divisions develop their own specific requirements for the Phase II COVID Mitigation Health Plans for Public Schools,” Haun said.

“SMAC worked closely with VDH to ensure that these recommended guidelines will offer guidance to local school divisions and superintendents reopening plans. Our SMAC committee of leading health experts has put together an invaluable tool to assist our school divisions in developing those plans.”

Today marks one week, since the VHSL announced schools could begin to hold out of season practices. Halifax County High School’s athletic director Allen Lawter said last week when the announcement was made that he was happy to hear the news, yet noted at the same time a return to sports would be a herculean task with some many unknowns still.

“We do not know to what extent, but we feel like we can at least start some conditioning. But we’re still gonna have to follow certain guidelines that have been set up by the state. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions” Lawter said.

This most recent VHSL announcement was meant to help answer some of those unknowns that most high school athletic departments are feeling currently.

Football, volleyball, cross country, and golf are all fall sports that Comet sports fans are used to being able to enjoy. With the new guidelines one can see that what was once traditional practices is not the norm anymore.

Social distancing guidelines, face coverings, the cleansing of equipment each time someone different uses it and a host of other items now dictate how practices should be conducted.

When looking at fall sports, football jumps out as the fall sport most fans attend. In the current model, being under Phase-Two guidelines football would definitely take on a different look in practice and would basically make any kind of competition, even among teammates possible.

Football is labeled as a Higher Infection Risk Activity because of the close contact necessary to play the game. The VHSL rates sports, as low, moderate and high infection risk activities according to how probable it may be to contact COVID-19.

For football the VHSL release said, “Conditioning and individual drills. A player should not participate in drills with a football that will be handed off or passed to other teammates. Contact with other players is not allowed, and there should be no sharing of tackling dummies / donuts / sleds. Protective equipment prohibited.” Also social distancing guidelines would have players keep at least 10 feet of distance from each other.

One can see the limitations that are placed on football seriously disrupt the normal way players prepare for games. Volleyball on the other hand is ranked as a moderate risk sport and could be considered low risk if face coverings and other protective gear be worn.

Guidelines for volleyball are, ”Conditioning, individual ball handling drills, each player has their own ball. A player should not use a volleyball that others touch or hit in any manner.”

The VHSL is in step with Gov. Ralph Northam’s three-phase plan so capacity limits reflect Phase-Two standards. And in this phase no fans would be allowed even if completion could take place – save maybe close family members as long as distancing and group-gathering numbers are in check. .

“Indoor events may occur if at least 10 feet of physical distance can be maintained by all participants at all times and all shared items can be disinfected between uses. The total number of attendees (including participants, coaches, etc.) cannot exceed the lesser of 30 percent of the occupancy load of the room in which the activity is being held or 50 persons. No spectators allowed.

“Outdoor events are allowable if at least 10 feet of physical distance can be maintained by all attendees (including participants, coaches, etc.) cannot exceed the lesser of 50 percent of the occupancy load of the venue or 50 persons. No spectators allowed,” per the guidelines.

There are many variables involved to getting back to sports and one of the biggest is just returning kids to school in a safe manner. That’s essential because a return to sports is predicated on schools presenting a health plan to the VDOE that can be approved to return students to school – in one form or another. The newest guidelines also recognize that teams may begin to play and then have to halt the season due to individual schools having to close temporarily again due to COVID-19.

As one of its Points of Emphasis the organization states, “Limited testing availability, lack of resources for contact tracing, and expanding knowledge of COVID-19 transmission could all result in significant changes to this guidance. The VHSL will disseminate more information as it becomes available.”

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