The Virginia High School League fall sports season remains on hold.
The VHSL Executive Committee took no action Thursday during a special called session to determine when, or if, a fall sports season will begin in 2020.
VHSL Executive Director Billy Haun advised the committee members — composed primarily of school superintendents, principals and athletic directors from across the state — that the league will schedule one meeting in July and another in August to further discuss fall sports.
VHSL fall sports include football, volleyball, cross country, golf and competitive cheer.
“This is the most anticipated Executive Committee meeting we’ve had in years,” Haun said during a video conference. “The first thing I’m going to say is a lot of people are going to be disappointed when this meeting is over.
“The Virginia High School League staff is not ready to give any recommendation for fall athletic schedules to this committee.”
Haun based his reasoning on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s phased plan for the state’s reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re going into Phase III on July 1st, but that’s still two months before we reach Labor Day,” Haun said. “It’s very possible the health data will continue to be good. But the data may go up. We’ve got states that are spiking.
“I think we can make a better-informed decision in four weeks, eight weeks from where we are now. We don’t know how schools are going to open. We have no idea how long we will be in Phase III, two weeks, four weeks, two months, six months?
“In Phase III, we’re still talking about social distancing. I don’t understand how you can think about playing team sports while you’re social distancing.”
Haun said the number of considerations are wide-ranging, including how students who are not in school five days a week can attend a practice on campus.
“I don’t see how some school divisions can do staggered schedules and not think there’s going to be an equity issue about who’s getting to practice every day,” he said. “If the [block] A kids are here on Tuesday and Wednesday and the [block] B kids are here on Thursday and Friday, while the [block] B kids are here on Thursday and Friday how are the [block] A kids going to get to practice if they’re not in the building that day?”
The VHSL chief said even if games are played, particularly in the revenue-producing sport of football, could schools afford to hold contests if spectator attendance is limited.
“One of the things we have to acknowledge is how much can we afford a full slate of athletic activities if we don’t have the gate receipts to pay the officials to pay for the workers, not to mention the transportation,” Haun said. “I think there’s a lot of issues yet to be determined. Because of that I hate to disappoint a lot of people that are expecting us to come out today and say, ‘Here’s the schedule for the fall.’”
Executive Committee chairman Ty Gafford, the outgoing principal at Altavista High School in Campbell County, said the VHSL has been under pressure in communities where young athletes are already out competing and practicing in sports on travel teams.
“The waters are starting to be muddied with travel teams starting to play again, traveling to other places, to North Carolina and whatever,” Gafford said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘If the travel teams are playing, why aren’t the schools saying they’re going to play?’ The league staff has been very cautious and rightly so in wanting to do this the right way so the kids and the coaches and the communities aren’t jeopardized by being in non-safe conditions.”
Gafford backed Haun’s cautious approach.
“I think patience is going to prevail here,” he said.
The VHSL allowed its 317-member schools to return to limited out-of-season workouts and conditioning on June 15, but few have done so.
Franklin County principal Jon Crutchfield, the Executive Committee chairman-elect, said he has canvassed local and regional school administrators and found that most are proceeding cautiously.
“Almost to a person, everyone is saying, ‘We want to play sports, but we understand if we have to go into this slowly,’” Crutchfield said. “I probably made 10 or 12 calls and no one said to me, ‘We need to issue football equipment in August.’
“I don’t think a lot of people are going to go rogue. Even a glimpse of playing something this year is going to be a good thing.”
The VHSL last month offered the possibility that the fall, winter and spring sports seasons might be shortened and compressed into a five- or six-month window.
Haun on Thursday presented a model of what that schedule might look like:
Season 1, Dec. 13-Feb. 20: Basketball, gymnastics, indoor track, swimming and diving, wrestling.
Season 2, Feb. 15-May 1: Football, volleyball, golf, cross country, field hockey, competitive cheer.
Season 3, April 12-June 26: Baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, outdoor track.
“This is not a schedule,” Haun stressed. “This is an example of a model that maybe we [use].”