VHSL developing guidelines to return to competition following Northam's announcement

VHSL developing guidelines to return to competition following Northam's announcement

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Virginia High School League Executive Director Billy Haun said Tuesday the league will develop guidelines for safely restarting practices and competitions in compliance with Gov. Ralph Northam’s plan to reopen the state’s schools.

Northam’s plan to reopen schools features three phases and is dependent on certain criteria being met. Phase One — which is effective immediately — prohibits athletic and extracurricular activities, which means organized offseason practices and summer workouts continue to remain on hold.

Haun said the VHSL “will move as quickly as possible to develop guidelines that will align with [Northam’s] plans” and the work already completed by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

“It is important to say that these guidelines must also align with local school divisions and superintendents reopening plans under Phase II & III,” Haun’s statement continued. “Before entering Phase II or III, the public health commissioner has ordered that every public and private school in Virginia will be required to submit to the [Virginia Department of Education] a plan outlining their strategies for mitigating public health risk of COVID-19 and comply with CDC and VDH recommendations. There is still work to be done before these guidelines can be put in place to reopen athletic activities.”

Two weeks ago, Haun said the VHSL Executive Committee is expected to make a decision on fall sports in a June 25 meeting.

“As high school football coaches, we’ll take whatever we can get right now,” Heritage football coach Brad Bradley said. “We need our kids and our kids need us.”

Phase Two of Northam’s plan allows for sports to start again, but with extensive limitations. The guidance says athletics should be limited to individual or team-based practice, skill-building drills or conditioning.

Bradley said he and his staff have spent “15 hours over the last two weeks” formulating plans to safely get the players from the parking lot, to the practice field and back to their cars. That includes administering temperature tests and asking questions about their health in the parking lot to determine if they can participate in the day’s activities, then designing workouts and drills that allow the players to safely navigate through the practice by limiting incidental contact.

Those drills include running routes on air, defensive coverages, linebacker drops, offensive linemen steps and defensive linemen stances and starts.

Bradley said he will keep a 5-yard radius around the players. That 15-feet distance exceeds the state’s requirement of 10 feet of physical distance maintained by all participants and spectators for indoor and outdoor sports.

“We have a plan for anything,” Bradley said. “You’ve got to abide by all the rules.”

Clark Mercer, Northam’s chief of staff, said he wants to limit incidental contact — “You can’t play sports, a lot of them, without incidental contact,” — and also minimize and prohibit the use of shared equipment.

“I don’t know what will happen with the high school football season down the road,” he later added.

William Campbell football coach Danny Broggin said he and his staff “are preparing like there will be a football season.”

Broggin, who has been in contact with Bradley and other coaches during the coronavirus pandemic, also has come up with a plan to keep his players safe. He, for example, would have the skill position players work on the field in drills that do not require incidental contact; the linebackers would work in another area; and the linemen would be in the weight room lifting weights in a sanitized environment.

“It’s all about the safety of these young men. That’s at the forefront of everybody’s mind,” he said. “How can we get back as quickly as possible and how can we get back as safely as possible?”

The Virginia Department of Health recommended youth and school sports do not take place in Phase Two “unless physical distancing can be maintained at all times [and] ... competition that involves contact with other athletes should be avoided.”

“When we come back, we’ll be like every other coach, we’ll be nice and slow,” Broggin said. “We’ll try to limit the bigger groups gathering as best we can.”

Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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