The Virginia High School League gave the go-ahead for public schools to begin limited out-of-season practice activities with physical distancing measures starting Monday.
The Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association also proposed some preliminary guidelines, subject to change, as it awaits a clearer picture of if/when sports can return in the fall.
Schools and sports in the state have been shut down since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The VHSL normally allows teams to practice during the offseason, with the exception of a summer dead period.
The league’s executive committee on Wednesday voted to begin out-of-season activities — as well as lift the dead period from June 29 through July 4 — in accordance with the plan for the phased reopening schools announced by Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday.
The three-phase plan still has a lot of limitations on sports starting with Phase II (schools have been in Phase I, with no athletics or extracurricular activities permitted).
Phase II says that “athletics should be limited to individual or team-based practice, skill-building drills or conditioning activities that allow physical distancing at all times.”
It also says that the Virginia Department of Health “recommends that no youth recreational/school sports competition take place in Phase II, unless physical distancing can be maintained at all times (e.g. individual swimmers showing up at scheduled times to have their event timed, etc). Competition that involves contact with other athletes should be avoided.”
Schools still have to submit plans to the Virginia Department of Education for mitigating the risks of spreading COVID-19 before they can enter Phase II and start activities on Monday.
Phase III allows athletics and extracurricular activities to continue with “some mitigation measures.” It does not address when competitions can resume but says more guidance “will be forthcoming.”
The first day of in-season football practice can begin as early as July 30, with most other fall sports having an Aug. 3 date for first practices.
“The VHSL Executive Committee believes that getting students back into some level of education-based activities will be supportive of their physical and mental health and well-being,” said VHSL executive director Billy Haun said in a release. “Allowing students and coaches the opportunity to begin out-of-season extracurricular activities and athletics will allow school communities the ability to begin moving in a positive direction.
“Our student-athletes have been out for over three months. Conditioning and acclimation will be critical as coaches and athletes prepare for the upcoming fall season.”
The VHSL also said its sports medicine advisory committee is finalizing guidelines for the reopening of sports/activities.
The VISAA, which governs private-school sports in the state, said in a release that “key points of emphasis such as a player’s use of face coverings coupled with extensive measures to sanitize equipment may become the new ‘norm’ for the near future.”
In Phase II of the VISAA’s plan, cross country runners and golfers would need to be 6 feet apart, and tennis would have singles play only. Phase III requirements are to be determined for lower-risk sports (cross country, tennis, golf), moderate-risk sports (field hockey, soccer, volleyball) and higher-risk football.
For all phases: sideline players and coaches must wear masks, with optional use for players in a game; no shared personal equipment; and optional use of gloves in competition.
For Phase II: no shared game equipment such as tennis balls and golf balls.