Governor, WVSSAC announce steps toward sports' return

Staff Writer
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Mineral Daily News-Tribune

By Chapin Jewell

Tribune Correspondent

The word came Friday on news that’s been eagerly anticipated by Mountain State sports fans. While not a total green light to bring back sports in their entirety and without restrictions, Gov. Justice did in fact roll out a plan for some sports and training to begin, albeit with restrictions.

As part of week 7 (June 8, 2020 to June 14, 2020) of the “West Virginia Strong: The Comeback” plan, the following have been slated to re-open, with social distancing actions mandated of course:

 - Low contact outdoor youth sports (guidance documents will be provided when they become available)

 - WVSSAC-sanctioned athletics and band summer training programs (with WVSSAC guidance)

 - Little League sports practices (guidance documents will be provided when available)

 - All remaining adult sports facilities including indoor tennis courts, racquetball courts, outdoor basketball courts and similar venues (guidance documents will be provided when available)

The WVSSAC followed Justice’s announcement with a release of guidelines specific to each activity. It’s clear that Gov. Justice and the WVSSAC worked closely together in planning for the resumption of sports.

“I have worked very closely with the WVSSAC. They’ve done great work. Their executive director, Bernie Dolan, should really be commended as well as out State Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch. They have worked hand-in-hand with one another,” Justice stated in a press release.

“Over the last several weeks, the WVSSAC staff has been working diligently to develop guidelines for the restart of school-based summer athletics. We understand the important role that athletics play in the lives of our student athletes, coaches, parents and communities. The guidelines were developed with one major focus – to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and school staffs to the greatest extend possible given the most current information we have at this time regarding COVID-19,” Dolan said in a press release.

The recommendations from the WVSSAC all center around safety as the primary concern, with the WVSSAC adhering to guidelines set forth by the National Federation of High Schools, Center for Disease Control, White House, the Governor’s Office, the West Virginia Department of Education, and the West Virginia Department of Health.

One of the biggest issues in the resumption of sports is the fact that student athletes really have not had access to training facilities and practice fields, with nearly everything being shut down. As such, there is a strong emphasis placed on facilitating an increase in general fitness and strength and conditioning levels beginning June 8.

It’s a three-phase plan, with phase one running from June 8 to June 22.  During phase one, athletes will be broken down into pods of up to ten athletes and be allowed to meet with coaches for one hour per day, provided it is outdoors.  Nothing sport-specific can be practiced, only activities related to conditioning, strength training and agility are permitted. Face coverings are required for all participants except when engaged in intensive aerobic activities.

Phase two will begin June 22 and run through July 3, with a general loosening of some restrictions. Work will continue in ten-person pods but up to 25 participants will be allowed in a general area. One key difference is that the practice period goes from one hour to up to two hours and both indoor and outdoor practices will be allowed, with outdoor recommended. Face coverings are still required except during intensive aerobic activities.

In addition to face coverings for these time periods, disinfectants and hand sanitizers must be available on site and any person, player or coach showing signs or symptoms of COVID-19 must quarantine for 14 days.

According to the plan, “Each school administrator shall have a written plan during the time students are on the school campus. The plan shall include procedures for disinfecting high-touch surfaces and restrooms. High-touch surfaces and restrooms are to be cleaned frequently with approved disinfectants. Appropriate staff must be designated for the daily sanitation.”

“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 said.

“Things will look differently than they usually do during the summer,” Dolan said. “And while the limitations and restrictions may not be optimal, they at least give our student-athletes and coaches an opportunity to come together and begin to reconnect and rebuild relationships in the safest way possible during this challenging time.”

According to Dolan, “Besides physical needs, student-athletes also have social and emotional needs and hopefully this helps with that. We don’t want to throw them right into competition.”

Phase three of the plan includes the three-week practice period which will begin for most counties on June 6. Mineral County, for example, has identified July 6 to July 26 as its identified three-week practice period.

In phase three of the plan, the number of athletes in a designated area increases to 50, though pods of 10 or less are still recommended. Another key change is that the number of hours of work increases to three per day as well, and outdoor activity is still encouraged. Low and moderate risk sports as identified by the NFHS are permitted, though no interschool activities are.

According to Dolan, “During the three-week period, we’re trying to keep it all contained to one school, so there will be no scrimmaging.” This includes 7 on 7 tournaments in football, basketball shootouts, or scrimmages of any kind.

The high risk sports outlined include football, competitive cheer and wrestling. Football is to put emphasis on individual position group drills, and no body-to-body contact drills are allowed, neither is use of helmets and pads. In cheerleading, no stunts or building will be allowed. In wrestling, participants must work on individual drills only.

“We’re rooting for Little League right now. 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,” Dolan said. “But really, we’re just hoping people are smart. If it was something where we would say, ‘You can come and 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.”

“We want this to go all season, not come in game one 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 that are supposed to wear a mask, then it becomes more likely that the fans will do the same,” Dolan explained.  

Sanctioned sports, thanks to Governor Justice and the WVSSAC, are indeed returning, albeit with a new look. The goal, however, certainly has to be to keep our student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans as safe as reasonable every step of the way. The WVSSAC has done their homework, here’s to hoping that everyone cooperates and remains compliant with the plan. It’s what it will take for our beloved sports to fully return as we desire.

Keyser scrimmages against University in pre-season action last August. 
Tribune photo by Chapin Jewell