The Virginia High School League Executive Committee voted Thursday to cancel its spring sports season for the remainder of the 2019-20 calendar year because of the ongoing threat of COVID-19.
The league previously scrapped its scheduled spring athletic and academic activities March 23 in the wake of Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision that day to cancel K-12 schools for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year.
On March 24, however, the VHSL left open the possibility of staging a limited number of events or round-robin tournaments beginning in July.
That window was closed permanently Thursday during a video-conference meeting in a vote by the executive committee, which is primarily composed of school principals, athletic directors and superintendents from across the state.
The VHSL sponsors the following spring sports: baseball, lacrosse, soccer, softball, tennis and outdoor track and field.
“If schools are closed and we’re not allowing teachers in buildings then you can’t have sports,” VHSL executive director Billy Haun said Thursday. “You can’t have any school activities. The schools are closed.”
Haun said the VHSL chose not to pull the plug on a complete cancellation of spring sports in March during the initial outbreak in Virginia of COVID-19.
“Back in March we still weren’t sure what was going to happen,” Haun said. “There were some projections. We had a little bit of data from Seattle, from some other countries. But at that point in March, we weren’t in the situation we’re in now.”
Haun, a former head football coach at three VHSL high schools, said in a statement released Thursday that he sympathizes with athletes whose eligibility ended in 2020.
“We especially grieve with those [seniors] who will not have an opportunity to represent their school or wear their school jersey one final time after years of hard work and dedication,” he said.
Haun said that while Northam has planned to ease certain statewide restrictions as early as May 15, the fact that more than 20,000 people statewide have tested positive for the new coronavirus left the VHSL no choice.
“Any options for the spring sports season would require that COVID-19 no longer be a threat and pose no health risks to our student-athletes or the public,” Haun said.
“Sadly, the situation has not changed and has made it impossible to have a spring season without putting people at risk.”
The VHSL made no decision regarding fall sports including football, which serves as a revenue-producer for other school activities.
“The decision we’re going to make on fall sports is going to depend on when schools open up and what [COVID-19] phase we’re in,” Haun said. “The Department of Education is working hard about reopening schools and what it will take to keep kids safe, things about transportation, keeping the building safe, food services, so many things.
“Until schools open up, you can’t play sports.”
Haun and VHSL associate director Tom Dolan dismissed the likelihood of moving fall sports to the spring of 2021 or flipping the spring and fall seasons in 2020-21.
“In spring sports we would have about 72,000 participants,” Haun said. “In fall sports we have about 55,000 participants. If you flip the spring and the fall and you think the fall would be the most dangerous time, we would be putting about 20,000 extra kids in jeopardy.”
Dolan echoed Haun’s statement.
“One of the concerns for us is we’ve lost  spring sports already,” he said. “There’s no way we’re going to flip those into an area that might be problematic with regard to resources and fields and gym space.
“I do not see any way that we could conduct spring and fall at the same time and do justice to either sports season.”
The VHSL Executive Committee is scheduled to meet again in June, but Haun said any further decisions likely would be governed by the state’s response to COVID-19.
“Every day when I watch the news I see things about hopes and discoveries about new vaccines, new treatments but then again this morning I saw a thing about how COVID-19 may be affecting children,” Haun said.
“We may meet four, five, six weeks from now but there are a whole lot of things that could happen. There are some predictions that it’s going to get better. There are some predictions that it’s going to get worse.”
In other VHSL action Thursday:
- Franklin County principal Jon Crutchfield was named chairman-elect of the executive committee.
Crutchfield is the chairman of Region 6A and is a past chairman of the VHSL’s Class 6 schools.
He said Thursday’s vote to shut down spring sports completely was no surprise.
“When we decided back in March, everybody wanted to hang on to hope, but we knew if it played out the way the experts said it was going to play out it was going to be tough,” Crutchfield said.
“We didn’t want to can it the first week of the virus.”
- The committee voted 25-4-3 to change the way enrollment is calculated for classification purposes from grades 9-12 enrollment to the total of students in grades 9-11 only.