VHSL adjusts to social distancing guidelines


Fiona Zheng

Football captain Hilal Hussain participates in warm-ups during a football practice, following distancing guidelines and wearing a mask. “It’s good to be out there again, even with the distancing; I’m just happy to be playing,” Hussain said.

Robert Stotz, Staff Writer

Due to the pandemic, the Virginia High School League (VHSL) has had to make major fundamental changes in order to adapt sports to the social distancing guidelines.

The VHSL is responsible for general regulation, complaints, and potential rule changes for Virginia highschool sports.

Tom Dolan, Direction of Interpretations of VHSL Rules and Regulations, says that this year has been the most difficult in his career.
“I’ve been doing this now for 40-some years; this is the worst year ever in my mind for what’s going on,” Dolan said.

Within the department, Dolan is tasked with the judgement of ejections in high school games. However, with a hiatus on games, his focus has shifted towards reshaping the structure of sports for the future seasons.
“I’ve dealt more with putting together different potential looks for the season, and options, as opposed to doing the eligibility and the ejections; what normally was 10% of the job became 60% of the job,” Dolan said.

The phase guidelines which the VHSL has created have been primarily based off of the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Governor’s Office. With prospects of a vaccine in late December, officials drafted a plan loosely based on that date.
“It was really built on where we thought we had the best opportunity to start, where was our end, then creating the three seasons. How disruptive we wanted to be to all three [seasons], or did we want to just take the fall [season] and try to slide it in between…” Dolan said.

The adjustment of rules and scheduling has sparked a wave of public backlash. This response from the public has been frustrating for Dolan, as he feels these people don’t understand how these guidelines are out there for a reason: to keep the players, officials, coaches, fans, safe.
“And when a parent says, ‘Let my child play; it’s worth the risk.’ To who? At what point does it become not just about you?” Dolan said.

With the basis for the year planned out, the focus shifted to the structure of the sports. The idea of these games are built upon the interactions with others; when all individuals are supposed to be six feet apart, basic plans for many sports are interrupted.
“All of it [the virus’ implications] is stumping us when it comes down to phase three being that you can’t have contact sports,” Dolan said. “You’re really going to have to do some mitigation changes,” Dolan said.

The idea of COVID can be particularly menacing to those of the Jefferson Wrestling Team. Coach Chuck Phillips has been leading his athletes in virtual workouts and training to prepare for the winter season. For a sport as contact-based as wrestling, adjusting to the online setting has been particularly challenging.
“We just gotta adapt,” says Phillips, “the most limiting rule is probably the whole ‘no contact;’ that’s kinda wrestling’s thing.”

Due to the physical nature of wrestling, they have not been able to participate in personal practices. As a result, Phillips is finding it harder to maintain the same kind of energy and spirit for the sport you would normally get through an in person setting.
“Those who want to wrestle show it in their workouts; those who are still on the edge about it are somewhat lackadaisical, and don’t give their 100%,” Phillips said.

Although wrestling has been rooted to online activities, Jefferson football has the opportunity to host in-person practices for the winter season. Team captain Hilal Hussain says the incoming freshmen have embraced the mixed online and in-person practices.
“This year’s freshmen have been really brave, showing up to in person practices; if anything we’ve seen more turnout, which really shows the dedication of this year,” Hussain said.

As a captain, Hussain is tasked with leading the practices, both in-person and online. To him, it’s important to make sure that the entire team respects the guidelines at all times in order to run safe and effective practices this preseason.
“We keep our masks on during practice, avoid contact, and socially distance whenever possible; the safety of the players is most important,” Hussain said.

The pandemic has been an inhibitor for all high school sports, calling for a mass reshaping of the system. Although many sports have been delayed, Coach Phillips has hope for the future of Jefferson sports as a whole, “[The virus] is merely an obstacle rather than an inhibitor;” Phillips said, “you’ll get through it if you really put your mind to it.”