Frederick County Public School students haven’t been able to make an impact in high school athletics since March because of COVID-19, but they hope they can make an impression with the FCPS School Board this week.
About 15 students — most of whom attend James Wood High School and holding signs reading things like “Let us play” — held a rally that lasted for an hour late Wednesday morning outside the Frederick County Public Schools Administrative Building on Amherst Street in Winchester.
The students were protesting the decision made by FCPS at Tuesday night’s work session to delay interscholastic competition until March 1. The dates for the FCPS seasons are March 1-27 for winter sports, March 29-April 24 for fall sports, and April 26-June 16 for spring sports. Winter and fall sports will not participate in the postseason. Spring sports will, and those advancing to state competition can participate to as late as June 26.
There were sports emails from 20 people that were read off at Tuesday’s meeting, mostly from parents, and one parent who spoke in favor of seeing student-athletes return to competition sports. The VHSL started its winter sports season on Dec. 7, but FCPS made a decision to delay the season until Tuesday night’s meeting so it could gather more information.
James Wood senior competition cheerleader Kayleigh Fridley helped organize the event late Tuesday night. The quick turnaround didn’t produce a large turnout Wednesday, but she hopes a bigger one will take place around 3 p.m. Friday now that James Wood students have reached out to Millbrook and Sherando students.
“The school board is depriving students of so much,” Fridley said. “Their opportunities [to compete], their social connections. There are counties all around Frederick County that are playing sports and trying to do it safely. I believe if the school board really wanted to, they could do that for us as well.”
Fridley said there were couple of FCPS officials that showed their support on Wednesday. She added that several teachers drove by, and a number of cars honked to show their recognition of a group that included football, basketball, volleyball, swim and baseball athletes. Fridley said a Handley student also showed up. Fridley said the group chanted “Let us play” and “Hear our voice, we have a choice.”
“It’s very helpful that we have people behind us,” Fridley said. “We just need people to act on what they’re saying, because that’s what’s going to get the attention of the school board.”
Fridley said Angela Markello, the mother of a James Wood cheerleader, created a petition to allow Frederick County sports to begin immediately. It had more than 700 signatures and also had comments on it, and Fridley said that it was sent to the school board on Monday. The petition was not mentioned at Tuesday’s meeting. FCPS Coordinator of Policy and Communications Steve Edwards said on Wednesday that he was not aware of the petition.
James Wood junior competition cheerleader Paige Linton was also at Wednesday’s rally.
“Our main goal as student-athletes was to go out and show the board, as well as our peers, how much we want the sports seasons to happen,” Linton said. “Even though they said we’d start in March, I think we’d really like to see the season be longer than just a month and for us to be able to play more teams than just a couple of neighboring schools. I think it would make us all happy to see that happen.”
Fridley hopes to see a lot of people on Friday.
“Anybody that can come out — parents, community members — that would be great,” she said.
As Markello and Tuesday’s board meeting showed, they have the support of a lot of parents to play.
“While I realize there are risks and benefits, on behalf of my athletes, we would like to start play,” wrote Neil Stephanites, a parent of two Millbrook athletes, to FCPS. “A large majority of the county athletes have been participating in travel sports for more than 6 months safely and successfully. I believe FCPS can provide an even safer environment for sports than pay to play has implemented.”