The date was Friday, Feb. 28, 2020.
Halifax County High School’s Kevon Ferrell hit a shot as time expired against rival George Washington-Danville to clinch the Region 4D Championship for the Comets basketball team. The stands in “Blue Heaven” were filled to capacity, the noise was deafening as the shot went through the net and fans poured onto the court in celebration. Little did anyone in attendance know at the time, but they were experiencing the last game at the school for ten months. That is how long it will be if the Halifax County School Board votes to allow winter sports to participate in the Virginia High School League’s Championships +1 schedule beginning in December.
The school board’s originally scheduled meeting on Monday has been rescheduled for Nov. 16, but the ramifications of that meeting and the subsequent vote still loom large for student athlete’s and coaches at Halifax County High School.
The gym at the school has sat silent since that night in late February. That silence was broken when the boys basketball team returned on Monday for conditioning. Wrestling also returned and began their conditioning by running outside. The girls’ basketball team hit the court for the first time on Thursday. The scene was much different than the last time they met. Chairs were spaced 6 feet apart as head coach Sterling Williams and his staff addressed the team with masks and face shields on. Each of the four coaches was assigned three players each to participate in conditioning drills. Those coaches moved with their three players throughout the drills and wipes were used to sanitize each station after use.
While there were a lot changes to the way things were done at conditioning, the sounds were the same. The ball bouncing on the court as the sound echoed throughout the cavernous gym, the squeaking of shoes as the players worked through their drills and the sound of the coaches shouting out instructions and encouraging players to keep working hard.
The return to conditioning for the coaches and players was something they had been looking forward to for a long time. COVID-19 came in without warning and what they thought would just be a couple of weeks of shutdowns turned into over half of 2020. Now that they have returned to conditioning they still have to see if the school board will allow them to participate in their respective winter sports in December.
Several of the student athletes at Halifax County High School expressed their desire to participate in sports this year and what playing those sports means to them.
Ferrell, who is entering his senior season as one of the leaders of the varsity boys’ basketball team, and coming off of a season where he earned first team all-state honors, knows he has one shot left at bringing a state title to Halifax County.
“This season will mean a lot because it is my senior season. I actually decided not to go to one of the top schools in New Jersey with a great basketball program to play my senior season here and hopefully bring back a state championship,” Ferrell said. “That would be a huge disappointment (missing the season). No senior night and not being able to play with the team and not being able to see fans cheer us on one last time would be a huge disappointment as well,” he added.
Sophomore Kameron Roberts, another member of the boys’ basketball team, had a phenomenal freshman campaign with the team, earning first team all-district honors in the Piedmont District and second team all-region honors in Region 4D. Roberts knows that even though he still has two years of high school basketball remaining, every game and every practice is important in getting to the next level.
“Even though I have two years left, every game is important,” Roberts said. “We want a chance to do the best we can and do what we love and follow the guidelines he added,” said Roberts who also feels for his fellow seniors on the basketball team. This year’s team is senior heavy and after last season where they went to the state tournament with mainly underclassmen, this is the senior’s last chance. “We just want to get back to what we were doing and be able to do it the right way. We have so many seniors and we want to let them have a season.”
The vote that is taking place at the school board meeting is for winter sports only because they are the first one’s to return to play with the VHSL schedule, but fall sports and spring sports athletes are also worried that their season could also be in jeopardy, especially if winter sports are not allowed to play.
Senior boys’ tennis player J.T. Francis is one of the unfortunate ones that lost his entire season last year due to the closing of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic. Francis has one last shot to play tennis his senior year. “This is pretty much it for me,” Francis said. “This is my senior year so I really hope we are able to keep playing.”
Francis has played sports most of his life and says that sports mean a lot to him. Being able to practice and play with his fellow teammates is an honor to him, and he is hoping for the chance to continue doing that. He went on to explain that he believes that sports can be played safely using the proper precautions. “I want to be able to look back on 2020 as a year of adapting and continuing with life instead of simply shutting down,” he concluded.
Tucker Harris is a standout football player for the Comets. Harris is in his senior season, and while he already has several offers to play college football, he is still hoping for the opportunity to showcase his skills on the field to have a chance to possibly get even better offers.
“I think this season is especially important for juniors and seniors. Coaches begin to recruit hard in the junior and senior season,” Harris said. “Not being able to play will hurt scholarship opportunities. I believe if other counties and states can participate in sports safely then we can too,” he added.
Another senior on the boys’ tennis team that lost an entire season last year is Trevor Riddle. Riddle also is a member of the cross-country team at the high school. Losing two seasons in a row and going to college without being able to participate in the sports he loves weighs on him.
“In dark times like these sports mean hope to me. With everything going on it would mean the world to us to compete this year,” he said. “I never really expected my senior seasons as a Comet to be like this but things happen. If I went into college without running a race or tossing a serve up as a senior I would be extremely upset,” he added.
David Riddle, the wrestling, boys’ tennis and cross-country coach, has been coaching at the high school for a long time. He has seen the ups and downs and everything in between, but this past year has been something that no one expected. Riddle and his wrestling team have gone back to conditioning this week, and he is one of the first coaches to implement protocols and guidelines to his players.
“The guys that I have met with know the protocols and are following it completely. I know the coaches here are totally behind doing the right thing as well. We want to get our seasons back and we are going to follow the rules to make sure it happens,” Riddle said.
Riddle has seen what getting back to conditioning this week has done for him and the members of the wrestling team. He described the feeling as filling a void in their lives that had been there since things were put on hold in March. “To see the excitement in the athlete’s eyes of just getting back together as a group has been great,” Riddle said.
One thing that has been made clear to all coaches and athletes as conditioning begins is that returning is optional. It is completely voluntary for the student athletes to return. Riddle mentions that this is one of the good things about competing in high school sports, but the ones that do want to compete are going to do the right thing and that they all accept the decision of anyone that wishes to sit out.
“Safety is a top concern, and I feel that those people that put so much time in putting our return to play platform together did an excellent job of adhering to that.”