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VHSL stuck in holding pattern until Northam announces plans for reopening schools

VHSL stuck in holding pattern until Northam announces plans for reopening schools

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In response to the growing angst surrounding the status of the upcoming fall sports season, the Virginia High School League’s athletic department released a statement regarding the matter on Friday morning.

“[Gov. Ralph Northam] will announce plans to reopen Virginia schools soon,” the statement began. “Once details are released, VHSL staff and the VHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee will review the guidelines and develop a plan for reopening athletics and activities that follow those guidelines.”

Doubling down, VHSL executive director John W. “Billy” Haun released a statement of his own that was attached.

“We will take that plan and align it with the work our SMAC committee has done, share those for approval with our executive committee and then provide those guidelines to school divisions as they develop their own plans for reopening athletics,” Haun said. “We know people are anxious and want to know when athletic activities will begin. I want to assure everyone that we will move as quickly as possible to put a plan in place.”

It wasn’t the first time in the past week that Haun provided assurances to student–athletes, coaches and administrators that fall sports wouldn’t be snuffed out in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Wednesday, he released a statement saying that the state’s governing body for public school athletics and activities is developing plans for the reopening of fall athletics, but that it would only happen in accordance with the governor’s directives on when to return to school, when schools can return to practice and when schools can return to competition.

Also Wednesday, the Daily Progress reported Haun has held meetings with region superintendents, principals and athletic directors, as well as with the SMAC, to discuss the best course of action when schools return.

The VHSL plans to meet with the coach advisory committees of fall sports to discus developing reopening plans. These meetings are to brainstorm ideas for multiple scenarios related to start dates, safety measures for resuming practices, regular season schedules and state playoffs for fall sports.

Haun, who also serves on the Virginia Department of Education’s Return to School Recovery Task Force, along with VHSL associate athletic director Tom Dolan and director of communications Mike McCall, has provided ongoing recommendations to the Return to School Committee.

In addition, the VHSL has worked collectively with other state and national associations, such as the National Federation of State High School Associations, and monitored the NCAA reopening to create guidelines for the return to play.

“It’s is important to say, and many already have, as we develop plans there are more questions than answers,” Haun said. “Because of that, we cannot put a timeline on when decisions will be completed and announced to the public until many of those questions become answerable.”

The VHSL plans to meet with the coach advisory committees of fall sports to discus developing reopening plans. These meetings are to brainstorm ideas for multiple scenarios related to start dates, safety measures for resuming practices, regular season schedules and state playoffs for fall sports.

On March 23, Northam issued an executive order requiring all of Virginia K–12 schools and nonessential businesses to close their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Northam’s declaration ultimately led to the demise of the spring sports season and a premature end to the careers of many student–athletes.

Three months later, the phased reopening of things like retail stores, restaurants and gyms across the state has begun. And while Northam has yet to make any announcements regarding the reopening of schools in the coming months, student–athletes, coaches and administrators are hoping for guidance on the matter soon in order to salvage the fall sports season.

“It’s tough, because it’s really a catch-22 situation,” Eastern View football coach Greg Hatfield said. “My job as a coach, first and foremost, is to make sure my kids are safe regardless of whether we’re practicing full-speed, doing a walk-through or playing a game. Because of that, I can understand why we’d all want to be certain that the risk of them contracting this coronavirus is minimal in order to move forward with the season.”

John Harvey of The Daily Progress in Charlottesville contributed to this report.

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