VHSL executive committee approves December start, condensed seasons for 2020-2021 school year

Photo: Brian Mellott

With a 34-1 Zoom poll vote, the Virginia High School League executive committee voted to approve the proposed Model 3, with condensed seasons for all VHSL sports in response to COVID-19-related restrictions. 


“This was an extremely difficult decision,” said VHSL executive director Billy Haun. “It was not a decision that was made lightly, everybody took this very seriously. There’s been very few of us who’ve had a full night’s sleep in a long time.”


The VHSL has reached this point in part because making a decision about what to do for athletics when schools’ own academic reopening plans are still in flux is particularly difficult. The state has a variety of different current outcomes for school in fall ranging from all virtual to part time in-person education to full-time in-person education. That creates a wide range of outcomes, transportation possibilities and a variety of potential issues that have yet to be sorted out.


“If you’re 100 percent virtual, even if we offer athletics, I’m not sure local school boards are going to allow those to happen,” Haun said.


It appeared the VHSL has delayed making a final decision in large part because the longer it delayed the decision, the better chance sports had to happen.


“Ultimately I’m very thankful that we should have a spring season, I just think about the athletes that were stripped of the 2020 season especially the seniors and this just gives hope that we will be able to play again,” said Albemarle girls soccer coach Amy Sherrill. “Being the last group to play will also give us some time to look at best practices to get our athletes ready to compete again.”


Model three pushes all three seasons (fall, winter and spring) forward starting in December: Winter (December 14 – February 20), Fall (February 15 – May 1) and Spring  (April 12 – June 26). First contest dates are December 28, March 1 and April 26 for those three seasons. 


“The dates you see right now may not be the dates that are etched in stone,” Haun said. 


The VHSL will be working with a variety of committees in the process of working on the schedule, playoffs and trying to mitigate the risk in sports that are classified as high risk or moderate risk. 


“Under the current circumstances, my personal belief is that model three makes the most sense,” said Charlottesville High athletic director Rodney Redd. “It not only creates a situation that every sport has a legitimate chance at having a season but it will allow stakeholders the opportunity to prepare.”


Model three keeps the possibility of all three seasons of prep sports happening alive. What happens next, depends largely on how information, guidance and regulations from the state government develops over the coming months. Model 3 buys the VHSL and its member institutions a valuable resource right now — time.


“While no model was perfect, this model gives the opportunity for every sport to have an opportunity to have a season,” Western swim and dive coach Dan Bledsoe said. “But first and foremost, the safety of the athletes, coaches and the community must be at the forefront of any plan.”


There was extensive discussion about what Haun called “culminating events” for each sport — like postseason, bowl games, region championships. The VHSL is still sorting out those details with a plan for VHSL staff to have the calendar and culminating events settled by September 1. It also brought to light another wrinkle in the challenge of holding state championships under the current Phase 3 guidelines.


“People are going to have to understand that normal doesn’t exist currently,” Haun said during the meeting while discussing trying to run a state cross country meet. “There’s going to be a lot of changes to what that looks like.”


Haun presented cross country as his example, a sport that had approximately $52,000 in total costs for the 12 state championships (six classes, both boys and girls). The VHSL sold $35,000 in tickets for the state cross country. Under Phase 3 guidelines, there’d be no room for spectators, creating a larger cost overrun problem, realistically, for conducting any state championships in any sport financially.


The VHSL will take the next month to sort all of those issues out. The VHSL’s Tom Dolan also brought up looking at the reclassification process in the future if the VHSL ends up losing the 2020-2021 season to COVID.