By Sports editor Brian Hoffman
Last Friday the Virginia High School League released a document intended to provide guidance for schools to consider with their stakeholders in designing return-to-activity protocols in accordance with state and county restrictions. It allows for a coordinated reopening following the initial stay at home orders and may also be used if conditions dictate the need for increased restrictions in the future.
The VHSL reiterated in a statement that the organization believes it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of students to return to physical activity and athletic competition. The VHSL recognizes that all Virginia students may be unable to return to – and sustain – athletic activity at the same time across the state. There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed over the next nine to 12 months.
While recognizing that county-by-county reopening may lead to inequities, the VHSL advocates for returning students to school-based athletics and activities as directed by state and local guidelines. Prior to allowing use of facilities, schools should review facility use agreements, especially in the areas of sanitation requirements and liability.
Limited testing availability, lack of resources for contact tracing, and expanding knowledge of COVID-19 transmission could all result in significant changes to this guidance. The VHSL will disseminate more information as it becomes available. Administrators and coaches must emphasize the need for all coaches and participants who have signs or symptoms of illness to stay home when ill to decrease risk of viral transmission.
Currently, the 2019-20 VHSL Physical Form expired on June 30, 2020. Therefore, any student-athlete must obtain a physical prior to any athletic participation moving forward dated after May 1, 2020. PPE’s are an important way to screen student-athletes for conditions that may expose them to risk of injury, illness, or death due to athletic activity. The VHSL requires annual pre-participation exams prior to any athletic activity.
Current pre-season conditioning and acclimatization models assume that athletes have deconditioned during the stay at home orders. The current pandemic may result in students being deconditioned for several months. The intensity and duration of training should be moderated upon return.
The NFHS is currently involved with several organizations in developing consensus guidelines for the resumption of workouts and practices. Due to the possibility of recurrent outbreaks in the coming months, schools must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate for two or more weeks while in season. Development of policies is recommended regarding practice and/or competition during temporary school closures, the cancellation of contests during the regular season, and parameters for the cancellation or premature ending to postseason events/competitions.
Phases are in accordance with guidelines published by the Commonwealth of Virginia and are subject to change. Please note that counties must meet “gating” criteria to establish Phase One and that further criteria must be met to advance from one phase to the next. These criteria will be determined by the Governor’s Office and/or VDH/VDOE and should be strictly followed.
VHSL Phase III Recommended Guidelines for each high school sport can be found at https://drive.google.com/file/d/15_XyOzREyKHkuEhxKAhaldTMJJESIJhV/view?usp=sharing.