The Fauquier County School Board used its January 5 organizational meeting to give the green light to the school division’s winter sports season, despite concerns about the community spread of the coronavirus.
Board members voted unanimously to allow the three high schools to begin their seasons on Jan.6, as scheduled and authorized by the Virginia High School Sports League. (The VHSL guidelines can be found here.) Basketball, indoor track and field, wrestling and swimming teams can organize trials from January 6. The competition can start on January 12. The regular winter season will end around February 1st. the athletes will count for the 25 spectators maximum authorized for the matches.
The decision was a departure from the discussion at the board meeting in December. 28 meeting, when then-president Duke Bland (District of Marshall) expressed reluctance to allow students to participate in sports when they could not be in classrooms. (Schools in Fauquier County will operate on a distance education model until at least January 19.)
Stéphanie Litter-Reber (Lee District) also expressed doubts during this meeting.
Newly elected board chair Donna Grove (Cedar Run District) explained the change in an email after Tuesday’s meeting: “I think everyone has had a chance to research and talk with our high school students. ”
Bland said at the Jan. 5 meeting he felt more comfortable because “athletic directors have contacted me to ensure that mitigation procedures are in place.”
After the meeting, he clarified, “I felt that taking action that evening (December 28) would mean that I would make an uninformed decision. Since then I have reviewed the 51 page VHSL guidelines and recommendations (especially page 26 – wrestling) again, listened to and read feedback from coaches, athletic directors, principals, parents and students and I came to the conclusion that we could indeed do it. So I was able to make a informed decision this time! “
During the January 5 discussion, attended by principals from Liberty, Fauquier and Kettle Run High Schools and their three athletic directors, everyone agreed that the mental health of the student-athletes was at risk because they were not did not have the outlet offered by organized sports.
Sam Cox, Director of LHS, spoke on behalf of his colleagues: “We have seen other school divisions return to athletics… Student-athletes thrive on competition… they suffer from boredom and lack motivation.
He said students are also suffering academically. “Our students should have the same chances to compete as other school divisions. And they should be able to compete for college scholarships … “
Cox said the competition mitigation plan has been “reviewed and approved” by Frank Finn, assistant superintendent of student services and special education, and is consistent with other school divisions. Cox spoke on behalf of all high school representatives in support of a return to athletics.
David Jeck, principal of schools, said the mitigation plan for school athletics is “excellent, unparalleled. These people take their jobs very seriously, ”but no details on mitigation were provided at the meeting.
Paul Frye, LHS athletic director, said: “We are ready to start tomorrow…. They can’t wait to get started. “
Litter-Reber asked if wrestling should be included in the plan, and Frye responded that athletic directors recommend that all winter sports be included.
At the January 28 school board meeting, Finn had indicated that the struggle was of particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic as it requires close contact between students. “There is no way for wrestlers to maintain social distancing,” he said.
At that meeting, other school board members agreed that if winter sports were to be reinstated, that wrestling could be ruled out, but on Tuesday night there was no will to stop the wrestlers from competing.
Grove said: “For me, the discussions with Paul Frye and Dean Spahr have convinced me that wrestling should not be ruled out.” She explained why, in her opinion, wrestlers weren’t at more risk than other athletes: “Mainly, the length of a match – five minutes. Basketball players are on the ground for 20 minutes, I believe, and often in very close contact. Both men were very sensitive to this. ”
Susan Pauling (Center District) weighed in via email Wednesday afternoon. She wrote: “I was very worried about canceling wrestling and allowing other sports to continue. We have received numerous emails from parents and coaches begging us to allow a full winter season.
“I spoke with Mr. Ott from FHS and he assured me wrestling had very strict guidelines for their athletes. He also believed that the plans in place for all sports would protect athletes and limit the spread of the virus. if an athlete were to be exposed or tested positive.
“I was hesitant to vote on the sport at the emergency meeting because I didn’t have the information I needed to make an informed vote on exclusion from wrestling. At the time, I felt like the school board was divided and wanted to give athletic directors an opportunity to influence what was best for all of our students. I am very happy that we postponed the vote, gathered information, listened to our community and made an informed decision. “
Several board members cited a surge of support from residents who want to see students again on the courts, on the mats and in the swimming pools. Grove smirked “a few emails” she had received about this.
Litter-Reber agreed, “I heard my constituents loud and clear.”
She also raised the possibility for the students of the marching band to return to the field and was assured that when the fall season began, the students of the marching band would be invited to return. “I agree that students are prone to depression” during the stoppages. “I want the band members and the cheerleaders to have an opportunity for this sanity outing as well.”