Freedom High School basketball players line up

Freedom H.S. basketball team line up before a game last year. Basketball is scheduled to kick off the high school sports season in December. But as a high risk sport, the pandemic needs to subside before it can be played. “Nothing is guaranteed,” said Unity Reed athletic director Kevin Turner.

At last, some clarity.

The Executive Committee of the Virginia High School League Monday voted 34-1 to approve the Model 3 athletic schedule for the 2020-21 school year.

The plan is to host every sport with a truncated schedule beginning with the winter season of Dec. 14-Feb. 20 (The first contest date is Dec. 28).

The relocated fall season, including football, would follow Feb. 15–May 1 (March 1), with the spring campaign set for April 12–June 26 (April 26).

"People are going to have to understand that normal does not exist at the level currently in our system,” VHSL executive director Billy Haun at Monday’s meeting.

He added the plan allows schools to begin the school year and deal with the issues of schedules, academic plans, transportation and possible outbreaks of COVID-19 in the school.

Haun said more than 8,000 people responded to requests for input following a July 15 meeting. 

Haun cautioned, however, that high-risk sports as defined by the NCAA still could be in jeopardy if the state remains at Phase 3 or drops to Phase 2. High-risk sports include football, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey, wrestling, basketball, volleyball and cheerleading.

"As long as we're in Phase 3, and we have the guidelines that we have, we aren't going to play the high-risk sports," he said. "In order to play high-risk sports, we're going to have to have Virginia move out of Phase 3 or the data is revised."

Local and state administrators have been waiting for the VHSL's decision so they can begin the arduous process of restructuring the year's athletic schedules. Still, they need more information before exact plans are made.

“I couldn’t imagine any other solution,” said Unity Reed High athletic director Kevin Turner.

“There’s uncertainty still, but we feel better about moving forward.”

Unlike much of the state, Prince William County has not allowed off-season conditioning on campus. Conditioning may begin around Labor Day, Turner said, once safety protocols are enacted.

Scheduling is suddenly an issue. "We need guidance from above to see how much we can play," Fauquier County's Liberty High School activities director Dean Spahr said Monday. "Then we can go backwards from there."

Haun previously estimated each team could play approximately 60% of its allotted games under Model 3, with district-only games a possibility.

Fauquier County's Kettle Run High School activities director Paul Frye said he’s curious about state tournaments dates and deadlines for district and regional tournaments. "You have to have those selected before we can move and decide how many regular-season games we can have," Frye said. "There has to be a cutoff somewhere to begin some type of elimination playoff."

Haun said committees will be formed representing all four regions in each of the six enrollment classifications. They will seek information from coaches in all sports to determine more exact guidelines, so more games may be possible.

Haun said the postseason is still being worked out and may need to be shortened. Some schools want to play the highest number of regular-season games to maximize participation, he said, while others very much want a postseason slate.

"We may have to do some type of sectional/regional model," he said. The committees will present recommendations at an Aug. 24 meeting. Haun said he hopes the VHSL will have a finished product by Sept. 1.

Schools may continue to hold out-of-season practice sessions under Model 3, Haun said. Fauquier has limited workouts to fall sports teams, but that will change Monday when every team may hold outdoor conditioning sessions. 

No implements may be shared, and participants must stay at least 10 feet apart. Activities are limited to running and agility work. The maximum number of 50 people on the campus at any time also will be strictly enforced.

“Most of it is just to let the kids get out and do something," Frye said. "There's not really much you can do."

One coach has seen a pleasing uptick in attendance since conditioning was approved.

"I have 25-30 kids coming to conditioning," Fauquier cross country coach Quentin Jones "Before, I might have 10. The kids just want to get together...get out of the house."

The winter and relocated fall athletes will need to adjust their internal clocks under the new calendar. 

Winter athletes previously worked out in obscurity while football and others competed. They now are leaders of the pack. Fall athletes will begin in wintry condition. 

They also may be faced with the need to play games during a school system's spring break. Most schools generally do not schedule games during the holiday, but the shortened season may require then.

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