Virginia High School League Executive Director Billy Haun unveiled three models for reopening high school activities in the state during a special-called Executive Committee meeting on Wednesday morning, giving member schools their first real glimpse at the potential landscape of high school sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Executive Committee will determine the course of high school sports later this month when it votes on the models on July 27. The committee also voted to delay the start of fall sports until that July 27 decision is made and to suspend the July-August dead period for 2020.
In all three proposed models, no high school football will take place in the fall, an outcome that Central Athletic Director Justin Broughman and Skyline AD Bill Cupp both said was expected.
The first of the three models Haun presented to the Executive Committee during Wednesday’s virtual meeting keeps all sports within their current seasons and would allow only activities that are deemed to pose low or moderate infection risks – golf and cross country in the case of fall sports – to be contested this fall. The high-risk sports – football, volleyball, cheer and field hockey – would not be played under that model.
Model 2 swaps the fall and spring seasons and would allow baseball, softball, soccer, track and field and tennis – all designated low or moderate risk – to compete this fall. Only one traditional spring sport, lacrosse, is designated high risk and would not be played under that model (none of the six public high schools in the Daily’s coverage area have lacrosse programs).
The third model leaves all sports within the seasons in which they’re currently aligned but delays all activities until December and adopts condensed seasons for all sports. In Model 3, Season 1 (winter) would run from Dec. 14 to Feb. 20 with games starting on Dec. 28, Season 2 (fall) would take place from Feb. 15 to May 1 with games starting on March 1 and Season 3 (spring) would run from April 12 to June 26 with games beginning April 26.
All academic activities are deemed low- or moderate-risk and could take place under any of the three models, which are built around the state’s current Phase 3 guidelines.
“We have to remember nothing is going to be normal,” Haun said at the end of his presentation. “The normal that we know (as) normal, we’re not gonna see that normal for four or five years, or maybe ever, I don’t know. But there’s a lot of things that have to happen to be back to normal.”
Model 3 seemed to garner the most support among Executive Committee members during Wednesday’s meeting. Though the model presents questions regarding scheduling – Haun noted that teams likely would be playing about 60% of a normal schedule under the condensed model – and what the playoff structure would look like, it’s the only option presented that delays the outright cancellation of certain sports and, as Haun noted, it affords schools the time to answer major questions they have in regard to their respective academic reopening plans without adding the burden of athletics on top of that.
Broughman, Cupp and Jason Barbe, Sherando’s student activities coordinator, all expressed some level of support for Model 3. Warren County AD Ed Dike, though he said he prefers Model 2, called Model 3 the “most politically correct” option.
“I want to see as many kids as possible to have as much opportunity as possible,” Cupp said.
Barbe told the Winchester Star on Wednesday that he favored the second and third models, noting that both keep intact – at least for the moment – all of the sports that Sherando offers.
Broughman said in a phone interview that while he would choose Model 3 if forced to pick one based strictly on “face value,” ideally he would like to see a plan that allowed for golf and cross country to proceed as normal – as presented in Model 1 – while the remaining sports operated under the condensed format of Model 3. While addressing a question on such a scenario during Wednesday’s meeting, Haun said talks on the subject didn’t gain much traction and cited potential legal challenges the VHSL could face in implementing a plan that allows full seasons for some sports but condensed seasons for others.
“Anything that can get kids safely into sports, I’m in favor of,” Broughman said. “If that means I have to play baseball in October, then we’ll play baseball in October. And if that means we’re doing cross country in March, we’ll do cross country in March. But if there was any discussion about how we could do this without being so black and white to it and make it better, that’s something I’m in favor of.”
Dike, who said he considers Model 3 a good “fall back option,” called Model 2, in which the fall and spring seasons would be flipped, the “most feasible” of the three scenarios.
He said orchestrating a full season of low- or moderate-risk sports in the fall might allow schools to gain a better grasp of how to properly conduct high-risk sports like basketball and wrestling in the winter. Dike also noted that you have to consider that spring sport athletes had last season canceled by COVID-19 and would probably relish the chance to compete this fall while there is still the possibility of doing so.
“I’m sure my baseball and soccer people would love to get back out there on the field,” Dike said, adding that if “you look at any of the three scenarios, there is no football in the fall, bottom line, so let’s try to get the next best option, and if we just flip them then it might be OK that way.”
On the flip side, Haun said one of the cons to the second model is potentially putting spring sport athletes into a situation where they have their season canceled for the second straight time.
“I really think that some good thought went into this,” Dike said of the models. “It’s just everybody’s got to go figure out what we can do and what we can’t do.”
All three of the proposed models present a long list of questions that the VHSL will need to address as it makes its decision on July 27.
“There’s not gonna be a perfect solution,” Broughman said. “There are gonna be people that are upset no matter which way they go, but I always say at the end of the day you just try to do what’s best for kids, and unfortunately I think right now a lot of this is gonna be you’re just gonna have to go with what your gut is telling you. There’s not a blueprint or guidelines or anything like that, it’s just what’s best right now. I can see every one of those three models, something good about them and something negative about them.”
Winchester Star sports reporter Robert Niedzwiecki contributed to this story.