The whirlwind of a week for city/county athletes continued on Tuesday.
One day after announcing the cancellation of the spring sports season due to Gov. Ralph Northam's decision to close public schools for the remainder of the school year, the Virginia High School League made another announcement.
After holding a conference call with its crisis management team early Tuesday morning, the VHSL announced that its committee had unanimously recommended delaying any final action for other options related to spring sports.
On Monday, the league had given local teams a glimmer of hope by indicating that it would still consider other options such as a tournament in the summer or perhaps even a shortened schedule. The VHSL made it clear that if it hopes to play in the summer, there are still plenty of hurdles. Regardless, there's hope.
“While we recognize the importance sports has on our students and communities, the COVID-19 threat is real and people need to follow all the regulations and recommendations from the CDC, Virginia Department of Health, and the Governor. We must make that our number one priority,” said VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun on Tuesday. “The Crisis Management team overwhelmingly felt a decision on an extension to the spring sports season should be put on hold until May. Any options for the spring sports season will require that COVID-19 is no longer a threat and poses no health risks to our student-athletes or the public.
Haun added: "This is extremely serious and a lot has to happen before May for us to extend the season. In every situation, every decision we make has been, and will be made in the best interest of our student-athletes and public safety.”
On Monday, local administration and coaches faced the tough task of comforting area athletes that suddenly had their seasons ripped out from them. After going through several scrimmages and being just days away from the start of the spring season, players and coaches were left with nothing.
"Along with everyone else, I'm in a state of disbelief," Broadway athletic director Ryan Ritter said on Monday. "Just a few weeks ago, we were preparing for our first scrimmages. I'm sad for our students, coaches, and community. My heart goes out especially to our seniors and their parents who've had their career cut short. With all of that being said, I remind myself that we are a blessed people and have lots to be grateful for."
East Rockingham AD Eric Phillips added: "I am heartbroken for all of the high school students in the commonwealth. We can all relate to how much we enjoyed our senior seasons in high school activities and athletics. It’s a very difficult time and we all need to do our part in helping to keep everyone safe."
The threat of COVID-19 is something local administration is certainly taking seriously. Administrators from all five city/county schools emphasized that everyone's health was the top priority and that's a sentiment the VHSL has also continued to make known in its recent communication.
"We all understand the reasoning behind the decisions being made and that is our first responsibility is for the safety of our students and community," Harrisonburg second-year athletic director Brandon Burley said early Tuesday before the most recent decision. "This is definitely heartbreaking news for our coaches, and student athletes, especially our seniors. We are creatively working to come up with ways to keep our coaches and athletes connected while we navigate through these difficult times."
Senior student-athletes were easily the ones that felt the most impact from the decision. Unlike the NCAA, there won't be another year of eligibility or another chance to play the game they love. It's suddenly up in the air for all of them.
"We love our students, so today was a tough day," Turner Ashby athletic director Will Crockett said Monday. "I am saddened by the news. It is a difficult time for all of our students, parents and the broader community. My first hope is that everyone will focus on taking care of their physical and emotional health. I especially feel for our senior athletes, who will not get to lead our teams, compete against their local rivals, have a senior night or take one last run at the postseason. It is a heartbreaking and frustrating way to have their high school careers end."
Spotswood AD Tim Leach added: "I am heartbroken that our kids will not have the season they were expecting. I am sad for our kids not to be able to put on their jersey this year, and compete for their school. I am especially sad for our seniors who will never have that chance again. I wish our kids would of had the chance to be lead by our coaches this season. I know this is the right thing to do for our kids and communities, it's a step that is necessary. But it is hard to think we will not have a spring sports season."
If the VHSL does find a path to play in the summer, it doesn't come without hurdles. In addition to discussing COVID-19, the league also discussed other obstacles that would have to be resolved.
Those issues included whether schools would be allowed to sponsor events, the amateur rule, a revision of the VHSL calendar, physical/participation forms, students taking college classes and other topics. The league also said it would not crown a 2020 VHSL state champion for any sport, no matter what happens.
Ultimately, after holding out hope for some answers on Tuesday, city/county athletes weren't given many. They were, however, given a small reason for optimism that they'll get to play at least a game or two this summer.
Whatever may happen, it's been an unprecedented and challenging time for local sports programs and their athletes. And through it all, administrators and coaches are doing their best to help their programs cope in the best way possible.
"I'm in the business of helping to teach kids how to deal with their successes and their failures, how to become a leader, how to persevere when times or tough, how to deal with adversity when things don't work your way," Leach said. "I hope that in the time our kids at SHS were with our coaches, that they learned a lot about each of those lessons. One season, or lack thereof, will not determine our athletes' success or the team's successes. The bonds the kids created the past three years, the lessons they learned on the fields and courts, as well as in the classroom I hope carries on with them during their lifetimes.
"My hope is they always feel like Spotswood is home to them and they can always depend on their coaches, teachers, and administrators to always be there for them in the good times — and in the bad."