Virginia Beach’s evolved thinking leads to winter sports restarting

Greg Giesen, The Virginian-Pilot

Less than a month ago, nothing looked good for high school sports in Virginia Beach.

With the COVID-19 metrics putting the district into the red/red region – above 10% positivity and more than 260 cases per day on a seven-day average – Virginia Beach, along with the rest of Hampton Roads, put all sports activities on hold.

The situation was so bad that Virginia Beach City Public Schools superintendent Aaron Spence announced the division, if the metrics were red/red on Dec. 22, would cancel the winters sports season.

Dec. 22 came and the metrics were still red/red, and the division pushed the decision off.

As school resumed on Monday, an announcement came that Virginia Beach would have a winter sports season. Tryouts would start Wednesday.

So, what changed? The metrics were still red/red and looked much worse than Dec. 22.

According to Virginia Beach City Public School spokeswoman Sondra Woodard, the division consulted the Virginia Beach Department of Health as well as advising physicians to determine that community-level transmission rate metrics were not the best to use and instead use school-level transmission data.

“As the understanding and science of COVID-19 is evolving, so does our thinking around in-person instruction and athletic participation,” Woodard said in an email. “The metrics we should be considering are not metrics developed in July and August, when we knew little about school transmission.

“Instead, we have new information based on months with students in school both locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, and that data indicates that students can safely be in schools and that transmission is low in schools because of our ability to successfully implement the health and safety mitigations that were discussed last night during the school board workshop, which again include mandating mask wearing and distance requirements, and creating safety teams to help with consistency and enforcement of protocols.”

From that point, the division decided sports could move forward, but to minimize the risk of COVID-19 spreading, there was the need to maximize the mitigation strategies.

Along with the VHSL’s regulations, Virginia Beach’s strategies included:

Spectators will not be permitted to attend contests due to the governor’s restriction on the size of gatherings.

Individual health screenings, conducted by the certified athletic trainer, are required for all coaches and athletes before entering school facilities for practice, games, treatment, etc. Documentation of all such checks must be kept with the certified athletic trainer and/or student activities coordinator and are subject to administrative review.

Regular-season contests will be scheduled against Beach District schools only.

Beach District athletes may not participate on non-school teams during their season. Doing so places their teammates, coaches and other Beach teams in greater jeopardy of exposure. This policy is in place until further notice.

Any confirmed exposure of a member of the team will likely lead to quarantine and cancellation of practice, and it may lead to further cancellations due to the close physical proximity dictated by sports participation.

A positive COVID determination of an athlete or coach must be reported to the Office of Student Leadership and may result in the restriction of participation of other athletes, the athlete’s team and other teams for a portion or remainder of the winter season.

While coaches and athletes were ecstatic about the decision, some parents weren’t thrilled with some of the regulations.

Beth Royle of Virginia Beach created a change.org petition in an effort to change the rule regarding non-school or club sports teams, saying that those students were being singled out.

“This is for every single kid who wants to play their sports in high school and wants to play their sport on the outside,” Royle said. “There is a grassroots movement out there that’s feeling like their voices aren’t being heard. This is a rule that is unjust and not based on science. And we want to know why this subset of students is a threat to their schools.”

Spence at the school board workshop on Monday said there were no easy decisions and there was no way to satisfy everyone, but the goal was to get students back in school and to restart athletics.

“There is simply no way to meet all these competing expectations and please all our stakeholders as we wait for the COVID-19 vaccine to be distributed and for things to return to a semblance of normalcy,” Woodard said. “No matter what decisions are made, there will be those who cheer and those who do not. For families who desire it, we are trying to provide students with every opportunity to participate in VBCPS athletics as safely as possible. Our revised guidelines for a return-to-play are what we believe can best accomplish that for Virginia Beach City Public Schools.”