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PHOTO BY RANDY LITZINGER

Next Monday, July 27, will be a fateful day for high school athletes across the state as they learn when they’ll play during the 2020-21 school year. 

Fauquier High baseball coach Matt O'Saben recently sent out a Twitter message to his prospective players to “get out of the Chick-fil-A line and pick up a bat and ball."

O’Saben and hundreds of other spring sports coaches want their athletes ready in case a practical plan to flip-flop fall and spring sports is adopted by the Virginia High School League. 

The VHSL will make a fateful decision involving the 2020-21 sports calendar on Monday, July 27. Three models are being considered:

-Model 1 scraps football/volleyball/field hockey/competition cheer for the entire year, but allows golf and cross country this fall. Winter and spring sports would follow with no restrictions. 

-Model 2 involves switching spring sports to this fall. Under this scenario, baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, track and perhaps lacrosse would be waged this fall, with fall sports in the spring. 

-Model 3, which appears the most popular and realistic, involves condensing all three seasons into a tighter time frame. Winter sports would run from Dec. 14 through Feb. 20. Fall sports would run from Feb. 15 through May 1 and spring sports from April 12 until June 26.

The benefit of Model 3 is that it buys more time for the pandemic to recede, with every sport likely to be included. However, schedules would be reduced to 60% of normal, with state playoffs expected to be eliminated. There could also be overlap issues for athletes interested in playing multiple sports seasons.

On Tuesday, the 15 schools in the Northwestern and Dulles Districts which comprise Class 4 Region C said they prefer to see the VHSL host cross country, golf, tennis, softball and baseball this fall. However, that is not one of the models. Of the models proposed, the region supports Model 3.

Model 2, with spring sports moved to fall, doesn’t seem feasible due to the current state of the pandemic. Virginia is not cleared from Phase 3, and VHSL executive director Billy Haun has said all sports are a no-go while in Phase 3.

On July 15, the VHSL announced football, volleyball, field hockey and competition cheer would not be played this fall due to pandemic concerns, then announced the three options. Coaches processed the news, and have been weighing in.

“Friday nights in the fall is a beautiful thing, but any opportunity they get to play I’m in favor of,” said Woodbridge High first-year football coach Alex Urquhart. “I’m excited to coach our kids in the fall or the spring.”

Fauquier volleyball coach Diana Story is still worried about the pandemic. "None of the three scenarios are ideal for any of us because we are still dealing with the unknown from the COVID,” she said. "If and when we can play, I'll get my girls ready to play. Everybody in the state of Virginia is in the same boat and is going to have to work with whatever comes down.”

For many fall coaches, moving to a February-May window is a reprieve and gives them more time to practice.

“We told our Falcons that we are basically in spring ball getting ready for the season similar to how college football works,” said Fauquier High football coach Karl Buckwalter. “As long as we can continue to move forward then we are ecstatic.”

With on-campus conditioning allowed in most parts of the state (although not in Prince William County), many coaches are enjoying interactions with players, although restrictive safety protocols are in place due to COVID-19. 

“Our players, staff, and athletic trainers have done a phenomenal job with the adjusted workouts. It has been a joy being back on the field with everyone again. We will continue to train until we hear otherwise from the state,” said Kettle Run football coach Charlie Porterfield.

Woodbridge’s Urquhart said the Vikings are also getting a lot done, even if they can’t condition at school due to county restrictions.

“A lot of what we’re doing is virtual. Position meetings, meetings for offense, defense and special teams, and character development lessons,” said Urquhart. “I feel like we have a very solid group of kids buying in. If we set our culture right, they’ll go in the direction we want then to go in.”

Urquhart reiterated his support of Model 3.

“I’m leaning toward Model 3 where everyone gets a chance to participate. The biggest thing for me is the sense that we get to play football and all the sports get to participate. We saw in the spring those sports getting cut. Those kids deserve an opportunity to play,” said the Vikings’ new football coach.

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