Botetourt County makes move to return to sports; Roanoke County plans to keep current system

By Sports editor Brian Hoffman

New Year’s Day was Friday and there have been no Roanoke County sports since Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz came down with COVID 19 on March 11. That’s a span of nine and a half months as we hit day 295 AG(After Gobert) today.

It’s been a tough ride for the high school athletes, especially the seniors who aren’t going on to play college sports. This was to be their final hurrah in competitive sports other than city league basketball, slow-pitch softball, touch league football and the like. Golfers and swimmers have outlets to compete but, if you play football and aren’t going to play in college, this is it.

On Tuesday, the Botetourt County made a major move toward returning to the court, mats, pool and track for the winter season. The Botetourt County School Board announced that sports were returning next week with games possible for Lord Botetourt and James River High School teams. They join Radford, Floyd County, Pulaski County and Giles County schools Narrows and Giles High Schools as teams currently allowed to compete.

Lord Botetourt is scheduled to play William Byrd in both boys and girls basketball next Tuesday, but that’s not going to happen. Byrd remains in a group of schools from Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Alleghany County, Craig County, Salem and Covington who are taking their cues from the Health Department. Each Friday Roanoke County will determine, using the CDC school metrics, if the county teams will be able to play the following week. The metrics uses the number of COVID cases in relation to the population to determine how safe it would be for sports participation.

“We’re still going to use the metrics,” said Byrd athletic director Jason Taylor, “and the metrics makes it almost impossible to play.”

The metrics uses a color-coded system of Red, Orange and Yellow to determine what the student athletes can do. Yellow is the best, but the CDC currently is listing Red.

“Thomas Kessler(Byrd wrestling and assistant football coach) has been tracking it and he said we haven’t been in yellow since August, and that was just for one day,” said Taylor.

Many parents of William Byrd students are hoping the county will follow Botetourt’s lead and allow kids to return to sports.

“What aggravates me is that kids are playing AAU and travel sports and there doesn’t seem to be any problems,” said Taylor. “I didn’t do my fall(travel baseball) team because I didn’t want the responsibility, but Luke(Jason’s son) played for Team Virginia and we went to four or five tournaments and not one person was exposed to COVID.

“We want our kids to be back and a lot of us live this daily. Athletics is a big thing in people’s lives and if the AAU teams can do, why are we cancelling games? Give us a shot, we’ll make it safe.”

As of now, it appears Byrd won’t be playing any games next week or in the near future if the pandemic continues to get worse after Christmas, as has been predicted. The metrics won’t allow it.

Masked William Byrd basketball coaches conduct a practice at the Terrier gym. (photo by Brian Hoffman)

“I don’t know why they came up with this metrics,” said Taylor. “The governor didn’t say we couldn’t play sports and 87 percent of the school systems in Virginia are still planning on playing. Dr. (Roanoke County Superintendent of Schools Ken) Nicely said the plan is to get our spring sports in because they missed their season last year. If they continue to use this metrics we won’t even play the fall sports.”

The Virginia High School League moved fall sports to the spring for an abbreviated schedule, with practice due to begin February 4. The first football games are scheduled for February 22nd, with Byrd scheduled to play Spotswood. Terrier coach Brad Lutz is determined to have the team ready, hoping to play as scheduled.

“Our workouts have been great,” said Lutz. “Our players are committed to getting better and working hard. While restrictions have changed the format of our workouts, our players continue to push through and get closer to where they need to be. We still have a lot of work to do, and the dead period was a small bump in the road, but I’m confident that our players will be ready.”

In the meantime many parents will be pushing Roanoke County to join Botetourt County in leaving the metrics system.

“Bedford isn’t doing the metrics,” said Taylor. “Floyd dropped us to play Giles, and I’m telling other athletic directors if can play and want to drop us, go right ahead, because there’s no guarantee we’ll be playing under this system.”

Ready or not, here comes 2021. It couldn’t be any worse, could it?

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