VHSL has issues to consider in Model 3 plan

Model 3 in the Virginia High School League’s athletics reopening plan is the only one that gives every sport a chance to have a season. But even if the COVID-19 situation improves it’s going to be a challenge to execute it smoothly.
 
On July 15, the VHSL proposed three models for its executive committee to vote on this upcoming Monday. The fall sports season is scheduled to start Thursday, but the VHSL voted to delay the beginning of fall sports until it makes a final decision on its plan for the year at its Monday meeting.
 
Model 1 keeps the fall sports season as is and eliminates any possibility of football, volleyball and cheerleading taking place this year because of their “high contact risk status.” Model 2 switches the fall and spring seasons but would eliminate soccer and lacrosse for the entire year, also because of their “high contact risk status.”
 
The idea of eliminating any sport from the 2020-21 school year is not appealing. For all athletic directors and coaches interviewed, the most important thing to them is giving everyone a chance to play. But several pointed out there’s plenty of things to be wary of if Model 3 — which received strong support from the VHSL Executive Committee at its July 15 meeting — is conducted in the manner in which it’s being presented by the VHSL.
 
Model 3 is considered the “Condensed Interscholastic Plan.” The winter season would last from Dec. 14-Feb. 20 (first contest date: Dec. 28); the fall sports season would take place Feb. 15–May 1 (first contest date: March 1); and the spring season would take place April 12–June 26 (first contest date: April 26). VHSL executive director Billy Haun said teams would participate in about 60 percent of a normal regular-season schedule in that scenario.
 
One of the concerns with Model 3 is the overlap between seasons, particularly for smaller schools. The fall and spring seasons would have a significant overlap since the final fall contest date (May 1) is scheduled to take place after the first spring contest date (April 26) and almost three weeks after the first practice date.
 
A team’s season likely wouldn’t end too long before the final contest date in order to maximize the time they have. In terms of the postseason — which Haun said might not feature state competitions because some schools are looking to limit travel for their students — football might just be limited to a “bowl week.” Based on a point system, the top two teams in each region, the third and fourth teams in each region, the fifth and sixth in each region, etc., would play at the end of the season. If there were state playoffs for other team sports, Haun said taking a week to have a regional championship, state semifinals, and a state championship could be an option.
 
No matter what the VHSL decides about postseason play, fall sports athletes could be reporting fairly late to spring sports teams. Small schools like Class 2 Clarke County have a significant number of multi-sport athletes and Eagles baseball coach Mike Smith wonders what that could mean for his team.
 
“I know of at least two guys who are going to be a big part of the football team and also a big part of our baseball team, and there’s a possibility I could not have them for a while as my season starts,” Smith said. “I don’t like that.”
 
Having three weeks of overlap could create problems with outdoor field usage as well at the end of April. Fall sports and spring sports are used to being spaced three months apart, not overlapping.
 
“What you get into is how much field space do you actually have in terms of trying to have all the sports practice at once?” Handley director of student activities Reed Prosser said. “Traditionally seasons are spread out, so there’s not much of an overlap. But when you’re trying to compress everything, I think it’s going to be a difficult situation in the sense that you’re going to have resources strained, you’re going to have time allocation strained, you’re going to have field space strained. But we’ll be creative and get through it.”
 
James Wood football coach Ryan Morgan thinks Model 3 makes the most sense. Morgan doesn’t think it’s practical to do sports in the fall if students aren’t on campus for class five days a week as a result of online learning plans that are being implemented across the state. The Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County school systems have already approved learning programs that feature some online learning. None of the local high schools will start the year with students in school classrooms five days a week.
 
That being said, Morgan said Model 3 could be challenging.
 
“Condensing sports seasons, there’s going to be some overlap where kids might have to choose a sport [over another], or they might have to miss [part of the next season],” Morgan said. “There’s no perfect answer for this.”
 
Normally, an athlete who plays a spring sport would have plenty of time in the summer to rest then physically prepare themselves for the rigors of football. But now, winter sports athletes who also play football will have to jump right in, perhaps after practice has already started for the football team.
 
“We’ve talked about how if they have to condense sports seasons, we’re going to have to really trim down the playbook and we’re going to have to be really creative with how we give the kids reps,” Morgan said. “In February there might be snow on the ground or it’s too cold to get outside. We’ll have to be creative with how to create situations to get players ready, especially for a contact sport. You want to have kids with good technique so they don’t hurt themselves.”
 
 
Sherando football coach Bill Hall said, “it’s important that we have the opportunity to strength and condition [players] properly so they can be safe. That’s a key component no matter what you’re doing and probably for any sport for that matter. Just because obviously with layoff, not all your athletes are going to be getting the same type of workouts like they would training with you.”
 
Changing the sports calendar so dramatically also can create conflicts with athletes who participate in club sports. For example, the February-April fall sports window in Model 3 overlaps with club volleyball season.
 
“Typically [with club volleyball] it’s two practices a week, then every weekend you’re traveling to some type of tournament,” James Wood volleyball coach Adrienne Patrick said. “I could have kids who are still playing club and not playing for the high school if the seasons get switched.
 
“I’m not a club coach. Of course, the club coaches are going to want kids to come out and participate, because they obviously love the sport, too. But I truly feel that lots of girls that play club are doing it for the extra touches when they’re in offseason from high school or middle school, meaning that the priority would be to make their school team to represent their school.”
 
Volleyball players also could choose to participate for both school and club teams simultaneously because VHSL rules don’t prevent that. But Patrick says she’d be concerned with athletes trying to do too much.
 
“There’s some kids who might they’re superheroes and they want to go to every single club practice and then every single school practice, then every single tournament for club,” Patrick said. “The potential risk of injury is a bigger concern of mine. I feel I’m going to be actively monitoring my athletes with lot of different stretches and strength training that’s injury prevention, and that they don’t over-exhaust themselves.”
 
James Wood rising senior opposite Lainie Putt — who made a verbal commitment to NCAA Division I St. Francis Brooklyn last week for volleyball last week — plays for Paramount Volleyball Club in Herndon, a trip that takes an hour. Putt said it was sometimes draining balancing academics and club ball, which didn’t start until after the conclusion of the high school season in November last year and can last until early June.
 
Putt is hoping that club volleyball teams might make adjustments to their seasons.For soccer, James Wood boys’ coach Brian Sullivan said on Monday — one day before soccer was declared a high contact risk sport that the VHSL would not permit in the fall — that Blue Ridge United executive director Dustin Butcher was willing to move the travel season for high school-age players to the spring if the VHSL moved soccer to the fall.
 
“I think it would be pretty difficult [to do club and high school at the same time],” Putt said. “You would have to make sure your practices didn’t overlap with high school. That would be hard depending on where you live.”
 
Handley cross country coach Mark Stickley said he’s concerned about the welfare of distance runners in a condensed-season format. Ordinarily, the cross country state championships are in early November, the indoor track state championships are in February, and the outdoor track state championships are in early June, which means they would look to peak three times in seven months. The condensed model calls for three peaks in just over four months, and in an unusual format with cross country in between the track seasons.
 
“You’re just looking at injuries waiting to happen,” Stickley said. “Peaking that much is a lot to ask.”
 
Due to the uncertainty of COVID-19, James Wood coordinator of student activities Craig Woshner reiterated his concerns from last week that starting the VHSL calendar with winter sports is a lot to ask, which is what will happen in Model 3.
 
“Five months is a long time. You don’t know what’s going to happen between now and December,” Woshner said. “But my big fear is short of a vaccine or a viable treatment [for COVID-19], all of those indoor sports are high risk. Wrestling is probably the worst as far as skin-on-skin contact. Basketball is not far behind. By nature of the venues swimming and indoor track compete in, social distancing is almost impossible in those kinds of venues.
 
“My huge concern is that if we don’t play any sports in the fall, trying to start in the winter season with all those issues that those sports present, we’re not going to have a winter season, either. I hope I’m wrong about that.”
 
Schools and teams have had to make a lot of adjustments since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Teams have shared and posted workouts online and are making the most of out-of-season workouts right now, so they’ll have to try and make do again if the VHSL opts for condensed seasons.
 
“Coaches do a good job of networking and bouncing ideas off each other and are trying to be creative to learn the best ways to get our kids ready,” Morgan said. “If they postpone the football season to February, we’ve got six or seven months to bounce ideas off each other and hopefully have a good plan for starting as quickly as we can.”
 
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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