VHSL releases possible plan for fall sports

Christiansburg High School’s MJ Hunter (left) and Blacksburg’s Karim Mohamed go one-on-one during the Battle of the Burgs last season.


By Marty Gordon

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, sports will never be the same again. So far, no one knows what that means, but Friday, the Virginia High School League (VHSL) released proposals for the upcoming fall, winter and spring season.

At issue right now is what it all means for fall sports like football and volleyball. There is also the issue of recreation sports like baseball and softball.

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.

“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,” said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “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.”

Of course, the entire plan depends on what public schools will do—starting back to school, what type of daily schedule student-athletes could face and what restrictions school systems like Montgomery County and Radford will put in place.

Under the VHSL plan, it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of students to return to physical activity and athletic competition.

The VHSL recognizes that all Virginia students may be unable to return to – and sustain – athletic activity at the same time across the state. There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed over the next nine to 12 months.  

While recognizing that county-by-county reopening may lead to inequities, the VHSL advocates for returning students to school-based athletics and activities as directed by state and local guidelines

Prior to allowing use of facilities, schools should review facility use agreements, especially in the areas of sanitation requirements and liability.

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.  

Administrators and coaches must emphasize the need for all coaches and participants who have signs or symptoms of illness to stay home when ill to decrease risk of viral transmission.  

Currently, the 2019-20 VHSL Physical Form expires on June 30, 2020. Therefore, any student-athlete must obtain a physical prior to any athletic participation moving forward dated after May 1, 2020. PPE’s are an important way to screen student-athletes for conditions that may expose them to risk of injury, illness, or death due to athletic activity. The VHSL requires annual pre-participation exams prior to any athletic activity.

Current pre-season conditioning and acclimatization models assume that athletes have deconditioned during the stay at home orders. The current pandemic may result in students being deconditioned for several months. The intensity and duration of training should be moderated upon return.  The NFHS is currently involved with several organizations in developing consensus guidelines for the resumption of workouts and practices.

Due to the possibility of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months, schools must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two or more weeks while in-season. Development of policies is recommended regarding practice and/or competition during temporary school closures, the cancellation of contests during the regular season, and parameters for the cancellation or premature ending to postseason events/competitions. 

Phases are in accordance with guidelines published by the Commonwealth of Virginia and are subject to change. Please note that counties must meet “gating” criteria to establish Phase One and that further criteria must be met to advance from one phase to the next. These criteria will be determined by the governor’s office and/or VDH/VDOE and should be strictly followed.

The VHSL plan is divided into Phase 1, 2 and 3. For now, the athletics side of things is still in Phase 1 with some leeway into Phase 2. It is expected athletics can move into that second phase in the next week.

So, the VHSL is looking to the next phase.

Adequate cleaning schedules should be created and implemented for all athletic facilities. VDH recommends cleaning a minimum of every two hours and disinfecting after every use of any shared equipment. 

Athletic training facilities may be utilized if adhering to the cleaning, occupancy limits, and physical distancing. 

Prior to an individual or groups of individuals entering a facility, hard surfaces within that facility should be wiped down and sanitized (chairs, furniture in meeting rooms, weight room equipment, bathrooms, athletic training room tables, etc.). 

Weight equipment should be wiped down thoroughly before and after an individual’s use of equipment. 

Individuals should wash their hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with warm water and soap or use hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol before touching any surfaces or participating in workouts. 

VDH recommends hand sanitizer be available to individuals as they transfer from place to place, especially entrances/exits. 

Appropriate clothing/shoes should be worn at all times to minimize sweat from transmitting onto equipment/surfaces. 

Any equipment such as weight benches, athletic pads, etc. having holes with exposed foam should be covered and disinfected. If equipment cannot be thoroughly disinfected, it should not be used. 

Students must be encouraged to shower and wash their workout clothing immediately upon returning home.

State, local or school district guidelines for cloth face coverings should be strictly followed. 

Cloth face coverings should be considered acceptable. There is no need to require or recommend “medical grade” masks for physical activity. All students should wear face coverings when physical distancing is not possible. 

Executive Order 63 allows an exemption for face coverings when individuals are exercising or using exercise equipment. 

One-piece plastic shields covering the entire face will not be allowed during participation due to the risk of unintended injury to the person wearing the shield or others. 

Coaches, officials and other contest personnel should wear cloth face coverings at all times and are strongly encouraged to wear cloth face coverings whenever physical distancing is not possible. Anyone with an identified health condition may be exempt from face covering policy. (Artificial noisemakers such as an air horn or a timer system with an alarm can be used to signal in place of a traditional whistle.)  

Face coverings should be laundered on a daily basis and hands should be washed after touching/adjusting face coverings.

Keep it local and avoid crosscounty travel when possible, especially if counties are in different phases.

If locker rooms or meeting rooms are used, there must be a minimum distance of 10 feet between each individual at all times. 

Shower use should not be allowed at schools. Athletes are encouraged to shower and change clothing immediately upon returning home. 

Under Phase 2, conditioning and individual drills are allowed only for football.  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 is prohibited.

Again, Phase 3 has not been determined, but there has been talk that any type of football season could not be anything we have ever seen.

For cross country, runners should maintain at least 10 feet of distancing between individuals with no grouping (i.e., starts and finishes).


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