The Stafford County School Board isn’t convinced that out-of-season conditioning should be allowed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
After a presentation from Chief Officer of High Schools and School Safety Tom Nichols, the board delayed a decision Tuesday night to allow athletes from its five high schools to begin training together.
The Virginia High School League has allowed out-of-season conditioning since July. Spotsylvania County started Sept. 1 and several other localities in the Fredericksburg area have been training, as well.
A condensed VHSL winter sports season is scheduled to begin Dec. 7, followed by fall sports in February and spring sports in April.
The Stafford School Board meets again Sept. 22 and plans to vote on the issue then.
Falmouth District representative Sarah Chase said she’s alarmed about the potential of allowing athletes to practice on school grounds while academic instruction is done virtually.
Stafford’s schools could switch to a hybrid model of online and in-person classes in early October.
“I have a concern about what the message is if we’re saying sports can start but school can’t,” Chase said. “You can come to school to play sports but you can’t come to do academics.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, Stafford County had recorded 1,799 cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths. Garrisonville District representative Pamela Yeung said based on observations in the community, she’s not confident athletes will maintain social distancing and honestly report symptoms.
Yeung said the county shouldn’t be compared to college and professional teams that have resources for constant testing and to place athletes in a “bubble” environment.
Yeung said it’s irrelevant that the surrounding counties of Fauquier, King George, Prince William and Spotsylvania are all allowing coaches to supervise drills at school, saying “if somebody jumps off a bridge I will not follow them.”
But Superintendent Scott Kizner said it does matter what other localities are doing and “I don’t think our children in Stafford should lose out on the opportunity that others are getting.”
“North and South are doing it, that’s fine,” Yeung said. “We will do it when we’re ready. I’m just one vote but right now I’m not convinced.”
Yeung said if one life is altered because the board allowed conditioning drills to take place then that’s too many. She also said the out-of-season conditioning rule isn’t inclusive enough because it doesn’t apply to middle school sports, just VHSL athletics and activities.
Hartwood District representative Holly Hazard said one bit of consternation she has is if parents’ begin to harass and pressure coaches that don’t want to participate because of safety reasons.
Rock Hill District board member Patricia Healy expressed concern over transportation and kids being left behind.
Chase said she’s also on alert regarding athletes following social distancing and face covering recommendations.
Nichols informed the board that strict guidelines such as 10 feet of social distancing when masks aren’t worn would be followed with the penalty of being sent home.
“My experience with high school and frontal lobe development is, ‘Good luck actually getting them to adhere to that,’” Chase said.
Mountain View girls soccer coach Fernando Ramos coaches a travel team that’s been in action since July. Ramos said his team hasn’t had any issues following protocol.
However, Chase noted travel teams such as Ramos’ are a major part of the dilemma. Ramos’ team has traveled to Chantilly and Vienna for contests and have had programs from other areas visit his squad at Embrey Mill Park.
“I think in terms of controlling a pandemic it’s my understanding that you want people in smaller groups and not doing a whole lot of interacting,” Chase said. “So if you have somebody that’s traveling to another state or another part of the state and then coming back and being in this small group with 10 or 12 kids you’ve really undone that because they’ve actually been exposed to a lot of other kids.”
All five high schools in the county have football players participating in a 7-on-7 league at the Fredericksburg Field House and several are in a similar league in Northern Virginia.
Brooke Point football coach Dwight Hazelwood said it’s a “Catch-22” because he wants his athletes taking advantage of outside resources. But he is concerned that if schools aren’t allowing participation, athletes are more likely to venture out and away from their coaches’ supervision.
“I can’t be mad at parents for using those resources,” Hazelwood said. “A lot of people may criticize it but 7-on-7 does have a place and right now it seems to be the only place for a kid to be if they want to play football.”
While Stafford girls basketball coach Carl Harris said he’s grateful the board is being cautious, Ramos and Hazelwood are prepared to get going.
Ramos said it didn’t take long for parents and players to know where they could walk and stand and for his players to know where to place their bags and be prepared for temperature checks.
Ramos added he’s anxious to get going at the high school level after his team’s entire 2020 season was canceled last spring.
“I’m just excited for the school side to adopt something similar to what we’ve done on the travel side so we can get these kids out there,” Ramos said. “It’s not only for the benefit of their sport and development but also for their mental health.”
Hazelwood is eager to see his players gather, as well. The Black-Hawks have had virtual meetings and have been calling and texting one another. But Hazelwood said it’s not the same as being in each other’s presence.
“I think our kids are ready to be around each other again,” Hazelwood said. “They’ve created a legit family atmosphere. They’re chomping at the bit.”
Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526
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