District games are the most important games for local high schools. If the spring sports season ever resumes, those will likely be the only games they play.
On Wednesday, the Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County school divisions announced that they will extend their school closures through mid-April because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which means no athletic activities can take place until then. Handley and Clarke County high schools will be closed through April 13 and the three Frederick County high schools (James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando) are closed through April 14. On March 13, each of the three divisions announced they would be closed March 16-27.
“I think we’re beyond the point where we’d be able to get in any non-district games at all,” said James Wood coordinator of student activities Craig Woshner about his school’s plans. “We would only be focusing on just getting our district schedule in.
“But we can’t do much of anything until we see what happens with the school for the rest of the year.”
This past Monday was supposed to be the start of the regular season for the Virginia High School League following three weeks of preseason practice and scrimmages. The VHSL announced last week that no school can compete until March 30 at the earliest. The VHSL Crisis Management Committee will meet on Wednesday to discuss how to best go forward with spring sports.
As of now, the local tennis postseason is scheduled to begin the week of May 11, the track postseason starts May 15, and the baseball/softball/soccer postseason starts the week of May 18. That leaves athletic directors with only about a month to work with as things currently stand.
The track schedule likely won’t change dramatically if sports resume because of the aerobic importance of the sport and the difficulty involved with organizing large invitationals. But there’s more freedom to reschedule the head-to-head ball sports of baseball, softball, soccer and tennis.
District games already dominate the schedules of local teams and play a large role in postseason qualification and seeding, so prioritizing them makes sense. Handley, James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando compete in the eight-team Class 4 Northwestern District, while Clarke County competes in the eight-team Bull Run District. Each team plays each other twice for a total of 14 games. Tennis and soccer are limited to 16 total contests, while baseball and softball play 20.
“I don’t see any non-district games at this point,” said Clarke County director of athletics Casey Childs about his plans. “We haven’t even talked about [what we might do as a district], it’s been such chaos.
“I just don’t know how many postponements we can get in at this point. But my initial goal would be to try and get in any many as the district games as possible. If we can play a non-district game here and there and it works out with opposing schools, I would try and do that. But I’m just hoping to get some games in.”
Woshner said he’s hoping that the VHSL might consider pushing the end of the season back two weeks to allow for more time for the regular season. Last week, the VHSL announced the outdoor track championships are still scheduled for June 5 and 6 and the Spring Jubilees for the other sports are still slated for June 11-13.
“I think it’s certainly feasible to [to push the VHSL season back],” Woshner said. “I don’t know what [the VHSL’s] thinking is, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
The VHSL made its announcement on Friday, three days before the Centers for Disease Control recommended that no gatherings of 50 or more people take place for eight weeks, a period that would run until May 11. If the VHSL follows those guidelines, that would have a major impact on decision-making with sports events.
“I’ve been looking at projections of eight or more weeks, so that would obviously put us beyond the point of having any of the regular season left,” Woshner said.
If teams do get cleared to play at some point, Woshner and Childs both said there likely won’t be much time allotted for practice prior to a team’s first competitive contest, simply because the window for competing will be so small. Schools already have to deal with the unpredictable nature of rain.
“We’d have to go from the get-go,” Woshner said. “There’s not going to be time to practice. That’s why we’ve been emphasizing for kids to do what they can on their own and stay in good physical shape and work on their fundamental skills that they do on their own.”
Childs said he’d like to have all his teams get at least a couple of days of practice in before they start competing, but some teams might need more time than others.
“Track will be tough [to start quickly] just because of the conditioning in some of the events they do,” Childs said. “Baseball, I think pitch counts are going to be extremely low just due to the fact that they’re going to have to build arm strength back.
“My stance, for the most part, is to get a couple of practices in, then try and get to get as many games in as possible. But if we get another postponement after April 13, that shakes it up all over again.”
For local athletic directors though, the most important thing is the health of well-being of their athletes.
“Everybody’s safety is going to paramount,” Childs said. “I know our administration is going to do what’s best for everybody involved. I’m confident we’ll continue to make the right decisions. [This situation] is just unfortunate for everyone involved.”
Sherando coordinator of student activities Jason Barbe said right now he’s making sure his family is doing well, and he’s focusing on helping out the FCPS program that involves distributing free breakfast and lunch to school-age children.
“As we get closer and get a better idea of whether we’re going to open back up on April 15 or not, we’ll take those next steps to plan out what the process would be for spring sports,” said Barbe, adding that the VHSL’s actions will help shape local decision-making. “There’s just too many unknowns to really put a, ‘This is what our plan is at the time.’”
Millbrook coordinator of student activities Scott Mankins said the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 situation makes it difficult to provide answers for the future.
“We’re going to go with the advice and direction of all those involved,” Mankins said. “The health-care officials, the school officials. I hate [this situation] for the kids, I hate it for the coaches. But it is what it is. All we can do is get advice and direction, and go from there.
“We want to do what’s best for our kids. Right now, the best thing for everybody is stay away from everybody else. If there’s a way to salvage any part of the season, we want to be able to do that. Kids want to compete and I think the community wants to see that as well. If there’s a way to salvage something, we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen. But right now we simply don’t know.”