TAYLOR COUNTY—The green light was given by Governor Jim Justice this past Friday for youth and prep athletics to resume again on June 8th across the state of West Virginia.
The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) in-turn moved quickly, announcing a three-phase plan to help get prep athletes get back into the swing of things before their three-week “live” practice period in July.
During Phase 1, which is scheduled to run from June 8th-June 19th, athletes will be broken up into “pods” of 10 or fewer players and will be permitted to meet with coaches for one hour per day. Those meetings must be held outdoors.
Following Phase 1, Phase 2 will begin, which will run from June 22nd to July 3rd and will employ the loosening of restrictions. During this phase, “up to” 25 student athletes at a time will be allowed to participate. Indoor and outdoor practices will be allowed, though WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan said the committee recommends meeting outdoors whenever possible. Practices for groups may also last up to two hours.
During Phases 1 and 2, no sport-specific activities are permitted, and meetings must focus on conditioning, strength training, and agility.
Face masks are recommended except during high-intensity training. Disinfectants and hand sanitizers must be available on-site, and any person, player, or coach showing symptoms of COVID-19 must quarantine themselves for 14 days.
“They’ve done great work,” Justice said regarding the progress of the SSAC. “Their executive director (Bernie Dolan) should be really commended, as well as our superintendent of schools Clayton Burch. They’ve worked hand-in-hand with one another. Ohio has already restarted its youth sports training programs. We’re a little behind Ohio, maybe a little ahead of some others, trying to split the middle as best as we possibly can.”
Phase 3 of the plan focuses on the three-week live period, which is assigned by individual counties. More information about these dates will be published as information becomes available.
One of the biggest challenges that will take place during all three phases is that no inter-school activities will be allowed. That includes 7-on-7 football tournaments, basketball tournaments and shootouts, and scrimmages of any kind. Restrictions will be lifted from 25 to 50 athletes during Phase 3 with practice times extending up to three hours.
The release also identifies three sports – football, wrestling, and cheerleading - as “high risk” and applies sport-specific restrictions on each.
Football players are not being permitted to wear any equipment or make body-to-body contact and must keep groups to 25 players or fewer with an emphasis on positional drills. Wrestlers may perform individual drills only, while cheerleading squads are not permitted to practice builds or partner stunts.
“We’re asking coaches to limit students into pods because if anyone gets infected, we only have to quarantine a pod instead of a whole team,” Dolan explained. “During the three-week period, we’re trying to keep it all contained to one school, so there will be no scrimmaging.”
He said the plan was put together with guidance from the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS), as well as help assistance from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (WVDHHR), the Department of Education (WVDOE), and the governor’s office.
There is still no information available regarding the start of fall sports, specifically football. On May 22, Dolan said he was optimistic that there will still be a football season of some kind, although the length of the season and the admission of fans were just two of several questions to be addressed in the upcoming months.
“Really, we’re just hoping people are smart. If it was something where we’d say, ‘You can come to watch the football game, but it has to be every other seat and every other row and you have to wear a mask,’ then you get a ton of people trying to jam onto the 50-yard-line, then obviously that’s not it,” Dolan went on to say. “We want this to go all season, not come in Game 1 and have a spike. If people are smart and take personal responsibility, that’s going to go a long way and I’m going to put a lot of it on the coaches too. The coach is the most influential person for the team and the community. If they’re wearing a mask when they’re supposed to wear a mask, then it becomes more likely that the fans will do the same.”
He also briefly addressed Little League and how their season could affect the fall sports.
“We’re rooting for Little League,” Dolan stated. “They’re going to have fans in three weeks or so, so we’re rooting for them and hopefully it will give us a better idea of what to expect in the fall.”