By Ben Cates and Emily Brown
The Virginia High School League postponed the start of spring sports by two weeks Friday afternoon in response to the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, but left the decision about whether athletes could practice to school divisions across the state.
Two hours later, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam rendered that moot, ordering all public schools, kindergarten through 12th grade, closed for a minimum of two weeks.
No practice, no games, no fans in the stands; in short, a state temporarily void of sports and with no future guarantees.
High school spring sports were scheduled to begin Monday for VHSL-member schools.
Like other local coaches, Brookville baseball coach Chris Glaize digested Friday’s developments but was left feeling uncertain about what may lie ahead for spring sports.
“At least it’s not over,” he said, referencing the two-week layoff. Glaize’s squad had been preparing for the 2020 season after advancing to the Class 3 state semifinals last spring.
The coach, like several others around the area, hopes to put together a plan for the coming weeks.
“We talked [Thursday] about staying in shape and [pitchers] throwing bullpen,” he said.
E.C. Glass boys soccer coach Randy Turille was hopeful Friday, calling the minimum break “the smart way” to approach the issue.
Turille and his players had finished up a morning practice Friday, then enjoyed a team meal at JoJo Pizza, ahead of a planned scrimmage with Blacksburg on Friday night. Turille learned at first that the scrimmage had been canceled, then things “snowballed from there.”
The coach called his captain, Gavin Leverette, one of 14 seniors on the squad, to relay the news about the next two weeks. Leverette and the team “are all pretty bummed,” Turille said, “but obviously we understand.”
“I just pray that this goes away and we’re good to go first of April,” Turille said, “and if we’re a little out of shape, so be it. We just want to play.
“Just hope the community and country and world, we can get through this thing and continue back to what we all know and love.”
There are plenty of questions from a sports perspective right now, including whether the two-week period ultimately will be extended, how to properly prepare for a return to activities, and even if there will be a spring season for high school sports at all.
“If you lose this whole year,” Glaize said, “how are these guys going to develop? How will JV guys be ready for varsity baseball?”
The VHSL said its outdoor track and tennis championships and Spring Jubilee are not currently affected by the two-week delay and “are still scheduled on their original dates.”
All that, of course, could change.
As of Friday evening, the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association had not suspended any sporting events.
But Virginia Episcopal School, currently on spring break, will extend that break three days and then move exclusively to online classes beginning March 26, according to a release by headmaster Thomas Battle.
“It is too early to know what the future holds,” the release stated, referring to whether students would return to campus this spring.
Lynchburg City Schools was on a planned two-day break Thursday and Friday.
At E.C. Glass, athletic director Elizabeth Masencup started fielding coronavirus-related changes the last couple days, making one cancellation to a scrimmage during a drive back to Lynchburg from out of town. Then, her job was to disseminate every additional piece of information to the school’s coaches that she said oversee hundreds of athletes during the spring.
Masencup called the last few days “chaotic.”
“I don’t think any of us have a frame of reference for dealing with a pandemic,” she said. “... It’s not like I can call a prior AD and ask, ‘What did you do?’”
Masencup added her voice to those of players, coaches, administrators and fans across the country who are especially disappointed for graduating athletes.
“The majority of kids may not go onto the college level,” she said, “so for them, this is their moment. Some of that, it burns and it stings, without a shadow of a doubt.”
Four of those Glass seniors are on the girls lacrosse team.
Coach Jace Crockett said he’s seen frustration from them and their teammates, adding they were “primed and ready” for official games to get underway.
The two-week hiatus will affect his team’s execution and fitness, he said, but he hopes the athletes will do work on their own to stay in good form.
“It won’t be near what it was,” he said. “But they’ve got the playbook. Most of them are pretty diehard. They’ll [work on their craft] themselves.”
At Heritage, football coach Brad Bradley said he and his staff will formulate a plan for how his players can stay in shape, should schools remain closed for the foreseeable future. The Pioneers typically hold weightlifting sessions, conditioning workouts and some type of football-related activities four days a week during the offseason.
Bradley’s plan may involve texting detailed workout descriptions to players for them to complete on their own or using video conferencing, like FaceTime, to go over schemes.
“My job is the welfare of my kids and getting those kids prepared to play a season,” Bradley said, “and right now that’s still my goal.”
But, he added, “If you have kids staying at home three, four weeks or longer, now you’re losing all the gains in the weight room, losing all the conditioning they’ve worked so hard for. And it’s not just football. Think about these in-season kids. All of the sudden, they could lose their opportunity.”
The VHSL’s announcement Friday came after the North Carolina High School Athletic Association and the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association suspended all athletic activities Thursday, after Maryland public schools announced Thursday they were closing through at least March 30, and, of course, in the wake of college and national sports being suspended or canceled.
“I never thought I’d live in a world where there were zero sports in the United States,” Bradley said.
Ben Cates and Emily Brown cover high school sports for The News & Advance. Reach Cates at (434) 385-5527. Reach Brown (434) 385-5529.