Will high school fields begin swarming with football players and other sports teams soon? Not necessarily.
While Northern Virginia moved to Phase 2 last Friday, opening up many outdoor venues and high school fields to members of the public, no organized team activity will occur until new COVID-19 safety guidelines are ironed out.
“We are not in position to go to Phase 2, athletically,” said Stonewall Jackson High activities director Kevin Turner on Monday. “We’re in a wait-and-see protocol.”
Schools are required to submit plans to the Virginia Department of Education outlining their safety precautions. New protocols need to be drafted for sports activities and for students in the school building.
The Virginia High School League (VHSL) Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has met several times in recent weeks to come up with guidelines for holding practices and contests.
Under the governor’s “Phase Guidance for Virginia Schools” document, outdoor recreational sports are allowable if 10 feet of physical distance can be maintained by all participants and spectators and all shared items can be disinfected between uses.
Total attendees are limited to 50 percent of the occupancy load of the venue or 50 persons. Spectators include only parents or guardians and must wear face coverings.
Executive director Billy Haun mentioned June 25 as a possible date for a decision about the possible start of the fall sports season. “There is still work to be done before these guidelines can be put in place to reopen athletic activities,” Haun said.
Kettle Run activities director Paul Frye said that Fauquier County’s three high schools have developed plans to get back to drilling and conditioning, so they’ll be ready when the VHSL’s recommendations come back.
“With different areas of the state in different phases, areas will be in different aspects of return to play,” said Frye. “Remember that our phase does not line up with the phase the government issues.”
He noted that many youth recreational sports leagues have already started up because parents can simply sign a waiver.
Fauquier High football coach Karl Buckwalter said he got bombed with requests from elated players asking when the first practice would be and had to temper their enthusiasm.
“We can’t do any of that until the administration and superintendent give us the OK. A health action plan to the state has to be approved,” said Buckwalter. “How do we ride the bus to an away game with 60 kids? I don’t know. How do we change in the locker room? These things have to be answered. We took a step forward, but it’s just a step.”
But he is excited with the progress. “I sent an all-hands-on-deck letter (last Friday) to Fauquier football. We’re getting close. Perhaps five or 10 days. We’ve got to be ready.”
Buckwalter said he’s prepared for players to have their temperatures taken at practice, bring their own water, not go into school and potentially practice with social distancing.
He noted that there can be no collision contact in Phase 2. “We have to get in Phase 3 before we can tackle anybody,” said Buckwalter.
What about the possibility of having to wear masks in practice or during games?
“We’ll let the doctors and scientists tell us. I just want to coach football,” Buckwalter said.