Athletic directors working with guidelines, logistics in preparation for return of high school sports
As school divisions elect and discuss a way to return to physical buildings, the concept of extracurricular activities also come to the forefront for each high school. For New Kent High School Athletic Director John Spiak and Charles City County High School Athletic Director Andre’ Jones, the duo is facing their own issues as they attempt to bring back athletics and activities for their respective schools.
A Tuesday afternoon interview with both athletic directors showed both the differences and similarities each are facing in a time where the COVID-19 pandemic has halted gatherings. Both athletic directors have been working since March to provide structure for the return to athletics, but it wasn’t until Friday afternoon until they received additional guidance.
“The Virginia High School League (VHSL) finally released their protocols and recommendations to us,” said Spiak. “I haven’t even gone through the 29 pages yet but from what I have seen, this year is going to take a lot of work.”
VHSL guidelines highlight safety and frequent cleaning according to the document released to the press. A lot of sports will look different according to both athletic directors. An example is that basketball will no longer have a jump ball to begin the game, instead opting for possession to go to the visiting team.
Jones and Spiak agreed that there will be limited fans in the stands for contests. Social distancing and wearing masks will be required in Charles City according to Jones, while Spiak said that he expects it to be the same once he meets with the superintendent and school leadership.
“Most people don’t understand that the 250 limit is for athletes, students, referees, and workers,” commented Jones. “Factor in social distancing for our gymnasium, we probably won’t see that many.”
Another agreeable point for both athletic directors is the financial hit that each athletics department will take this year.
“Obviously without the income and concessions, that magnitude is going to impact us,” Spiak said. “I think the school board and central office understand that the athletic department’s finances is going to take a hit in revenue.
“The cost of the game is going to be the same, but the income will be significantly lower,” the New Kent athletic director added. “Our uniform rotation is going to be added, and our biggest concern is being able to pay for officials.”
Jones echoed the sentiment about paying officials, saying that even on good days the athletic department struggles.
“Right now if we don’t have fans in the stands, we may be able to last one year,” Jones commented. “For example, in basketball it takes roughly 100 fans at each game to offset the cost of referees. Now, imagine the number being allowed slightly over that. You barely have enough to purchase equipment and other supplies afterwards.”
Both athletic directors have been working with their respective departments to ensure facilities are cleaned frequently, but there are areas where they do differ in.
A prime example is the current use of school facilities. New Kent is currently allowing athletes to condition as they are in a hybrid plan. Meanwhile, Charles City is planning for conditioning but has not started yet as they finalize details for their return.
“Students and coaches are wearing masks and social distancing,” Spiak said. “It’s something we monitor every day.”
“Because we are remaining virtual until at least January, one of the biggest things we’re dealing with from the athletic department side is reaching and connecting with athletes,” said Jones. “Most of our athletes participate in multiple sports, but it’s hard to gauge who is interested in a sport or not, especially when coaches have limited contact.
“When we do return to the premises, athletes and coaches will wear masks and be checked for symptoms and that includes temperature screenings,” Jones added.
Another area where both schools differ at is how attendance and admittance into games will be taken into account this year. Charles City plans to presale their tickets for the season, while New Kent is still looking at ways to address how they will handle it.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do as far as tickets,” said Spiak, pointing to a variety of factors. “I don’t want anybody to travel from somewhere and it’s already hit capacity. There are pros and cons with presale, but we want it to be equitable, especially for a parent of a senior athlete.”
Spiak added that different sports have different hiccups. Using the Winter season, while presales for basketball may be feasible with seven home games, ticket sales for wrestling could be different.
“Not everybody will have the ability to host, especially with the guidelines for a limited number of teams,” Spiak added. “What applies to basketball may not apply to wrestling.”
Jones commented that the Tidewater District took an unprecedented step to address fans for the Winter sports season.
“Our district had different views when it came to attendance to our games, so we voted that only home fans could attend our district games during Winter sports,” Jones said. “That means while our fans can see us play West Point here, they can’t go to West Point in their gym.
“I know it’s a difficult situation and know it may upset some people, but with safety being the main concern, the district athletic directors wanted to minimize the interaction of people from other jurisdictions coming into other counties,” the Charles City athletic director added. “It’s about safety for our student-athletes, coaches, and fans.”
Both athletic directors also had to reshuffle their schedules for all of their sports with the condensed schedule. With both local schools playing mainly district schedules for the athletic year, the Charles City-New Kent rivalry games will take a hiatus for at least one year. But more problems arise when it comes to the use of other facilities with limited dates.
“We started an indoor track and field program last year with moderate success and now it will be hard for us to find a meet indoors due to the size of our school,” Jones said. “With VHSL not sanctioning any sporting events this year, that means we will be having a couple of “Polar Bear” meets that will count towards our indoor season.”
“Our swimming program doesn’t even have a schedule or a pool to go to yet,” Spiak said weighing in on the subject. “When you have limited facilities, it’s going to be difficult to schedule even as a district.”
As both Jones and Spiak work through the logistics, they are advising the public that things won’t be normal this year but encourage fans and supporters to allow them to make things work for the student-athletes.
“Everybody has got to realize that this is not what it has been in the past,” Spiak said. “Player-wise, coaching-wise, fan-wise, and officiating-wise, we just have to do the best we can do to keep everybody safe.
“At least this is an attempt to get them to play. It’s limited, but they get to do it,” Spiak concluded.
For Jones, he wants supporters of Charles City High School athletics to allow them time to continue to work on providing student-athletes the opportunity to represent the school.
“We lost the Spring 2020 season and that impacted not only a lot of student-athletes, but our community as a whole,” Jones commented. “If we want to have athletics back in our school system, everybody has to follow the rules.
“From athletes to coaches to fans to administration, we have to be patient and understanding in uncertain times,” he continued. “One day we can have sports and the next day, they can be gone again. A couple of years ago this school went with the loss of two sports and know the impact it can have on the community.
“I’m asking the community and telling them that if they want to continue to have athletics and activities to abide by our guidelines,” Jones said as he wrapped up the interview. “We are doing our best with the limitations that we have and are working on alternatives to make sure our fans can enjoy the experiences of high school sports.”