High School sports on pace to return in December following new guidelines announced last week  

By Sports editor Brian Hoffman

High School sports are on pace to return, opening with winter sports in late December. Last week Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed the fourth amended Executive Order 67 which includes changes to Section 12 related to recreational sports.

A detailed list of guidelines were included to allow sports to return in Virginia.  These changes allow the VHSL Championship + 1 schedule to begin playing in December as scheduled.  The VHSL has released its  “Guidelines for Return to Participation” for school divisions. This document will provide guidance for schools to ensure a safe reopening of sports and activities.

“Keeping our student athletes safe is critical during this pandemic,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “I know I join many parents in looking forward to the safe return of school sports. VHSL has been a tremendous partner throughout the COVID crisis, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness and diligence they have put in development of these guidelines for returning to play.”

“This amendment by the Governor clears the way for all of our sports to play,” said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun. “We appreciate the time, effort, and input staff received while preparing this document. Adherence to these guidelines will offer a safe reopening for our students, coaches, staff, officials, and communities once we start playing in December. Additionally, we appreciate the close collaboration and guidance from the Governor’s office, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).”

William Byrd athletes work out on the Patterson Stadium field observing VHSL restrictions. (photo by Brian Hoffman)

Among the mitigation efforts include:

-No jump balls in basketball. The visiting team will have the first possession of the game. A coin toss will determine first possession in overtime.

-In baseball and softball there will be no seeds, gum or spitting and lineup cards will be shared from team to team via phone or text. Also, in baseball, pitchers cannot wear white or grey face coverings. In softball, pitchers cannot wear optic yellow face coverings.

-Cross country will have staggered, wave or interval starts.

-In soccer, the drop­ball restart has been suspended and the referee will instead award an indirect free kick to whichever team is deemed to be in possession.

-In volleyball, gloves are permissible during competition.

-In wrestling, teams are asked to participate in smaller events; mats are to be cleaned before, during and after meets; wrestlers don’t have to appear on the mat after a forfeit and the winners will not be declared by raising the athlete’s hand.

The amended Executive Order did not change the number of attendees permitted at a sporting event, which cannot exceed the lesser of 50 percent of the occupancy load or 250 persons. For sports played on a field, attendees are limited to 250 persons  per field.

The modifications outlined in “Guidelines for Return to Participation” are meant to decrease potential exposure to respiratory droplets by encouraging social distancing, limiting participation in administrative tasks to essential personnel and allowing for appropriate protective equipment. Recommendations include cleaning and disinfecting; mask protocols; transportation; and how to run activities safely for individual sports and activities.

Teams conducting out-of-season workouts will continue to abide by Phase 3 Guidelines as established by the VHSL and the Virginia Department of Health, regardless of established adjustments allowed for in-season teams to conduct regular season and postseason events.

In preparing this document, VHSL staff received input from VHSL and NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committees (SMAC), the NCAA, the Virginia Department of Health, USA Football, USA Field Hockey, US Lacrosse, USA Wrestling, the National Wrestling Coaches Association, VHSL school administrators, and VHSL coaches advisory committees.

More information on rules and regulations for return to action can be found on the Virginia High School League website.

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