Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam amended an executive order on Thursday that paves the way for the Virginia High School League’s schedule — dubbed Championship +1 — to begin play in December.
The VHSL also released guidelines for school divisions to ensure a “safe reopening of sports and activities.” Included in the guidelines are changes to many sports that will be different to years past.
Halifax County High School principal Michael Lewis confirmed on Friday a vote — taken at last month’s Halifax County School Board meeting and questioned last week by ED-8 representative Walter Potts Jr. — was deemed to be legal and that conditioning is allowed to begin for all student athletes.
An official schedule for conditioning should be available early this week. Lewis also confirmed school officials will be seeking approval from the school board at the board’s next meeting on Nov. 9 to participate in winter sports. The first practice date for winter sports is Dec. 7, with the first contest date beginning on Dec. 21.
“Keeping our student athletes safe is critical during this pandemic,” Northam said in a release sent out by the VHSL. “I know I join many parents in looking forward to the safe return of school sports. VHSL has been a tremendous partner throughout the COVID crisis, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness and diligence they have put in development of these guidelines for returning to play.”
The amended Executive Order 67 states indoor and outdoor sports activities are permitted, provided participants and organizers of recreational sports activities comply with certain requirements. In those requirements, the total number of attendees (including both participants and spectators) cannot exceed the lesser of 50% of the occupancy load of the certificate of occupancy for the venue, if applicable, or 250 persons per field. Races or marathons may have up to 1,000 participants, provided staggered starts separate runners into groups of 250 or less.
There also must be screening of coaches, officials, staff and players for COVID-19 symptoms prior to admission to the venue or facility.
“This amendment by the Governor clears the way for all of our sports to play,” VHSL Executive Director John W. “Billy” Haun said. “We appreciate the time, effort and input staff received while preparing this document. Adherence to these guidelines will offer a safe reopening for our students, coaches, staff, officials and communities once we start playing in December. Additionally, we appreciate the close collaboration and guidelines from the Governor’s office, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).”
The release also stated the modifications outlined in the “Guidelines to Return to Participation” are meant to decrease potential exposure to respiratory droplets by encouraging social distancing, limiting participation in administrative tasks to essential personnel and allowing for appropriate protective equipment.
Some of the more notable modifications in the guidelines include the elimination of the jump ball in basketball. The visiting team will be awarded possession at the beginning of the game and a coin toss will be implemented if games go into overtime. Spectators will not be allowed to occupy the first row of bleachers and cheerleaders will maintain, at all times, 6 feet of social distancing from other squad members as well as members of the team and officiating crew.
Team benches should also adhere to 6 feet of social distancing, place team benches opposite of spectators if possible and additional rows may be utilized or occupying rows of bleachers behind the bench if social distancing can be adhered to.
In football, the team box will be extended on both sides of the field to the 20-yard line (for players only). In soccer, the drop-ball restart has been suspended and the referee will instead award an indirect free kick to whichever team is deemed to be in possession. On all indirect and direct free kicks, players must reasonably remain at least three feet apart from each other (an arm’s length). This eliminates the traditional wall and jostling for position in front of the goalkeeper.
Baseball and softball will prohibit sunflower seeds, gum and spitting. Pitchers will be prohibited from licking their fingers and wiping them. They will not be allowed to put their hands to their mouth or blow into their hands prior to pitching the ball. If they do so, the pitch will be deemed a “no pitch.”
If the umpire deems it a “no pitch,” the ball will be called dead and the ball goes to the dugout for sanitizing and the pitcher must sanitize their hands before play is allowed to continue.
Players are not allowed to leave the dugout area to congratulate teammates when scoring or after home runs. Other sports have similar guidelines to follow to ensure the safety of all participating or involved.