In a reversal of course, the Virginia High School League on Monday rescinded its recent requirement that face coverings be worn during training and competition in most sports.
The VHSL is "strongly encouraging" athletes to wear masks, but it's not a requirement.
The VHSL enacted the mask mandate on Dec. 10 after Gov. Ralph Northam announced stricter mask-wearing rules. Wrestling, swimming, cheerleading and gymnastics were exempt to the regulation, but basketball figured to change dramatically.
Coaches and students at Unity Reed High were diligent regarding the VHSL mask mandate during the four days it lasted.
“I immediately thought, ‘These kids are going to struggle to breathe.’ but with the increase in water breaks, I could see them manage better than I expected,” said Unity Reed activities director Kevin Turner.
Turner said athletes didn’t keep masks completely pulled up “due to their sweat, but with constant reminders from our coaches and our athletic trainer I was pleased with the rate of compliance,” he said.
Thinking they’d help with fitness, Osbourn High boys basketball coach Rocky Carter made masks mandatory in workouts even before the VHSL installed the requirement.
“We wanted to get them used to it [wearing masks],” Carter said. “I decided we were going to have the masks on because that will help us in getting conditioned. We weren’t able to get them in shape in the preseason like we wanted to because we weren’t allowed inside.”
With basketball games beginning next week in Prince William County, it’s unclear how many schools will wear them.
The VHSL enacted the mask mandate on Dec. 10. Now the VHSL is saying mask-wearing does not apply to “individuals exercising or using exercise equipment.”
“The VHSL apologizes for any confusion created by its original release,” said VHSL Executive Director Billy Haun. “We ask the public to understand that it is the first mission of VHSL to make sure that athletics are conducted in a safe and healthy environment, and it was that desire that motivated the original decision.”
Osbourn senior guard Manny Ojo said wearing a mask hasn’t been easy.
“At first, I’m not going to lie, I hated it with a passion,” Ojo said. “I was like, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to be able to do this, I can’t breathe.’ But I feel like it’s going to be easier because we do condition a lot and I feel it’s going to make us much more mentally stronger and physically stronger.”
Colgan High School's girls basketball coach Fred Milbert said one of his players has worn a mask from the first day of practice and hasn’t noticed a major difference in her play.
“She wore it when we ran bleachers, she wore it when we ran the track,” Milbert said. “It didn’t seem to impact her, she still seemed to make her times and meet her goals.”
Potomac boys basketball coach Keith Honore said having players wear masks presents new challenges.
“They’re asking us to be health officials,” Honore said. “Basketball is what I’m doing the least of now. Instead of trying to find ways to get us better defensively, I now have to find ways to get us in shape, be better defensively and not put our kids at a health risk.”
Honore says he can’t push his players as hard in a mask: “I can’t have a kid go out and run 10 sprints with a mask on, it doesn’t make sense.”