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Volleyball coaches: Let’s err on the side of safety / October 07, 2020
Bluestone High School girls volleyball is a program that has dominated the competition in the James River District and also in Region 2A. Last season the team missed out on the VHSL state tournament after falling in the deciding match of the region playoffs.

Being a fall sport, Bluestone volleyball will start practicing in February with competition beginning in March, under the VHSL’s adoption of the Condensed Interscholastic Plan and its Championship + 1 calendar.

Last week, the Mecklenburg County School Board voted to allow conditioning sessions for student-athletes to go forward. Those workouts are set to begin with an anticipated start date of Oct. 21.

However, Bluestone varsity volleyball coach Darlynn Oxendine and her husband, Randy, who coaches the jayvee team, say they are not planning to hold fall conditioning sessions. As much as they love the game, they believe it is too soon to resume workouts. She said the decision was not an easy one to make, but she and Randy feel it is the correct move.

Oxendine said she worries too many things can happen that are not in the best interest of the student-athlete.

“This is something while we sit here eating and watching TV that we probably discuss 23 out of 24 hours of the day,” Oxendine said. “It’s not that I don’t want to, and it’s not because I’m not ready to get back to volleyball. I just don’t want to put a player in a situation where they could have something happen to them. Could be nothing happens to them, but it could. And I just can’t do that for them.”

Oxendine, who played on the first girls volleyball team at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said this is the first fall season since 1969 that she won’t be participating in volleyball. She’s been coaching Junior Olympics since 1980.

Oxendine says she reads on the internet, seeing how the virus is impacting various other sports. She made the point that the Carolina volleyball team lives and practices in a bubble. There’s one student to a room and no real interaction between players at practice.

She notes that recently the UNC women’s team played Virginia Tech, and when they got back home, the Tar Heel women were notified that one of the VT players had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“So I read, I read and I read — I just saw where Baylor came down with a cluster of football [players] with viruses and they had to stop their season,” Oxendine said. “I see where [New England Patriots quarterback] Cam Newton got it; players with the Titans. I see where a guy that was 20 years old from California University dies of COVID.

“I’ve talked to the Carolina coach (Joe Sagula) and he’s in a bubble. All his players are one person in a room. They practice with mask on and they’re in a bubble and it’s hard.” She notes that the team voted to wear masks despite the fact they aren’t mandated in volleyball.

As far as players working out, volleyball is a sport that can be practiced alone, Oxendine said. Yet she looks at social media and sees the kids talking about gathering together — they just want to get back to playing and seeing their friends.

Oxendine, who serves on the Vance County (N.C.) School Board, said she and fellow trustees will be determining Monday night whether to send kids back to school for the next nine-week session. Currently all students are taking classes virtually — so she sees the situation from not just a coaches’ point of view.

With students not attending the middle and high schools right now at Bluestone or Park View, she finds it difficult to ask her players back.

“You watch them on Facebook and it’s four or five of them together,” said Oxendine, referring to her players. “And you know that they are ready to get back with their friends and get back to playing. And you so much want to do that for them, because you, me, I missed camp this summer at Carolina (UNC). I missed even the Junior Olympics not starting all ready. I miss being with my players to get them ready.

“I just think that’s it not the time to put those girls in that situation. Even though I know a lot of parents want to, and a lot of parents want to go back to it, and hopefully they will find some way to do what they want to do.”

Oxendine said it’s tough, but players have to get outside and practice. The coach notes her players know and understand the conditioning they can do on their own. She said the question is: Are they?

“What we have done is stop in March and go back again next March, a year later with no volleyball,” Oxendine said. “That’s going to be a totally different team.

“It’s gonna be whether the girls have the intestinal fortitude to take that ball outside themselves and practice with it. Volleyball is a game you can practice with yourself. But do you have the intestinal fortitude to go out there — you especially should if you want to go to college and play.”

“Now what are the girls doing? Are they just sitting back doing nothing or are they really preparing for the season … that’s a hard one.”

Oxendine said she is impressed with all the COVID-19 precautions that are in Mecklenburg’s plan to return the students to sports. That hasn’t kept her from thinking there are just too many variables that could come into play.

“Randy and I have discussed this — and like I said this is something we’ve thought over and over about,” Oxendine dsof. “We’re not going to ask you to put your child in a situation where they could be like the kid from California, we’re just not going to do it. Because young kids can carry it and have no symptoms.

“It’s just a very dangerous disease, very dangerous pandemic — this is not the flu, this is not a bad cold.”

Oxendine said she understands the feelings of the parents and players. But just feels at this time, safety outweighs risk.

“I personally don’t want to be a part of being unsafe with any of my players because I love ‘em to death,” Oxendine concluded. “If nobody were getting it, it really wouldn’t bother me.

“The safety issues that’s why I’m really concerned. Whatever they want us to do; if they mandate us doing it, I would do it. Because I would never desert my team, my children.

“Hopefully it will be better by February and we can get together and we’ll be able to start our practices and games.”

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