While the Virginia High School League has announced initial plans for returning to athletics and extracurricular activities in the fall, a distinct plan has not been finalized.
Richard H. Kemper Jr. executive director for the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association released a memo this week to the nearly 100 VISAA member schools following Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Virginia Return to School Plan” released earlier this week.
While the National Federation of High Schools announced potential plans to “open up” this fall, Kemper said that those guidelines shouldn’t be considered universal. He believes that the COVID-19 pandemic affects each state, and even different regions within each state, differently. Those differences may cause schools to modify plans to fit their philosophy.
“The VISAA Sports Medicine Committee is working on solutions that are fully integrated with our institutional plan and anchored in safety for all students and staff,” Kemper said in a written statement. “Our reopening plan will be influenced by the governor’s executive orders and we will implement strategies that best protect our student athletes and coaches.”
With questions still looming throughout the state with regard to the coronavirus, Kemper said the VISAA is trying to be cautious.
“We feel that it’s better to wait for a more accurate forecast prior to making decisions too early in the process,” he said. “We will be required to be flexible and adaptive as we navigate through this pandemic. We believe that it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of our students to return to physical activity and ultimately, athletic competition.”
Kemper acknowledged that variations and modification may be implemented in an attempt to lesson virus transmissions. Some of the key components in constructing the VISAA’s “Return to Play” plan includes player use of face coverings coupled with extensive measures to sanitize equipment, which may become the “new norm” for the near future.
“We will do everything possible to promote a safe program environment,” Kemper said.
The VISAA Sports Medicine Committee presented a “Return to Sports” outlook to the League’s Executive Committed during a Zoom meeting this week. Kemper said the plan was sent out to member schools for discussion and encouraged feedback.
Under this initial proposal, when the league reaches Phase II and Phase III, the VISAA mandates all players and coaches on the sideline wear masks. There is optional use for players in the game.
In Phase II, low-risk sports like golf, tennis, swimming and cross country will have minimal restrictions. These sports are defined as lower risk activities and can be done without physical distancing or without sharing equipment. There’s no need to clean equipment used by competitors.
In cross country, runners must practice social distancing and stay six feet apart. The same is the case for golfers. Tennis practice will be limited to singles competition only.
Sports such as volleyball, soccer, baseball, softball and basketball are considered moderate infection risk activities. These sports involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place that reduces the likelihood of respiratory particle transmission between participants or intermittent close contact.
Football, wrestling and lacrosse are deemed higher risk infection activities due to sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers and a higher probability that respiratory particles could be transmitted between participants.
Guidelines for moderate and higher risk sports are still being evaluated and a plan is expected to be devised later on.
“VISAA will work with sports committees and individual sport’s governing bodies to determine recommendations for potential modifications to game rules, length of seasons, regular season schedules and postseason qualifications,” Kemper said.