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Vote set Thursday on return of high school sports / September 16, 2020
The Virginia High School League is scheduled to vote Thursday on the proposed “Championships + 1” calendar for moving forward with the 2020-21 sports season.

The delay in the vote came after the VSHL released an initial draft of the calendar and the various stakeholders involved — from student-athletes to high school athletic directors — offered suggested adjustments to the plan.

Concerns range from the challenges to mental health associated with not being able to participate in sports, and the loss of socialization opportunities, to losing the opportunity to compete post-high school because of student-athletes will be unable to showcase their talents in their senior seasons.

Since the cancellation of spring sports in March, a safe and prompt return to student athletic activities has been first and foremost on the minds of VHSL officials. The “Championships + 1” calendar represents their approach for restarting sports — with flip-flopped seasons for fall and winter sports, a delayed return for all students to the fields and courts of play, and extensive safety precautions.

Former Bluestone High School soccer player Charlotte Bradshaw — who graduated this year — expressed the impact that the canceled spring season had on athletes in a May 2020 interview. Bradshaw missed her senior season of soccer but signed with Randolph-Macon College after building an impressive resume beginning her freshman year.

“Although this did not affect my recruitment, it definitely will affect others that have not been recruited yet,” Bradshaw said at the time.

On Monday at Capital Square in Richmond, a “Let Them Play” rally took place. The purpose of the event was to push for the reopening of high school sports in Virginia immediately.

The organizer of the event, Holly Wiles of Leesburg, said she felt it necessary to hold the rally to let the VHSL know that student-athletes and their parents across Virginia want to get back to playing sports, now.

Wiles said she decided to organize the rally because she had seen where student-athletes, parents and supporters had attended a similar event in Michigan. Following that rally, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reversed an earlier state order delaying fall sports and allowed for fall sports to begin last week in Michigan.

Wiles’ son Billy, a senior three-star quarterback for Stone Bridge High School, has already made a verbal commitment to attend Tulane University. Stone Bridge is a VHSL Class 5 high school that won the 2019 state division championship in football. She noted that while her son has already signed to play college ball, she was doing this out of concern for all the other senior student-athletes that may not see a final season of play.

“I’m here today for kids that are all over our state that won’t get an opportunity to run cross country, play football, play field hockey in college because no college coaches are going to see them play,” Wiles said.

In response to the rally, the VHSL organization restated its commitment to seeing a safe return to sports as soon as possible.

“The VHSL and its member schools have worked tirelessly over the past several months to create a plan for our students to participate in VHSL sponsored athletics and activities. Our Executive Committee will meet this Thursday to approve and adopt our ‘Championships + 1’ schedule for the FY 2021 Athletic and Academic Activities season. This schedule provides every VHSL sponsored activity a season during the FY2021 year,” the release said.

“VHSL staff and Executive Committee will continue to work in cooperation the VHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) to develop a list of recommended guidelines for school divisions as they prepare for the safe reopening of high school sports and activities.”

Some student-athletes and parents have questioned why, with some recreation leagues back to playing, the VHSL wouldn’t follow suit. This was a point at the “Let Them Play” rally, when Giles described attending a recent sports event with over 1,000 people in attendance.

VHSL officials note that unlike privately-run recreational leagues, its membership is made up of schools that are required to follow VDOE (Virginia Department of Education), VHD (Virginia Department of Health), and Gov. Ralph Northam’s public safety guidelines. With that being the case, any VHSL rule or regulation must take into account those unique relationships.

The VHSL sees Phase-3, which Virginia is still in, as a means for student-athletes to come together and improve physical health, practice sport specific skills and increase socialization with friends and coaches while returning to a routine.

Thursday’s vote surrounds the scheduling of games using the Condensed Interscholastic Plan. The condensed schedule would see no sports starting in-season practiced until December, with winter sports being played first.

“We fully understand and support the passion of high school sports from our school communities, parents, and students,” the VHSL said in a statement. “From day one, we have been committed to getting our students participating in activities safely and responsibly. There has been a tremendous amount of input and cooperation from principals, superintendents, activity directors, coaches, and members of various communities.”

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