Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) announced earlier this week that the district will not be participating in any Virginia High School League winter sports during the 2020-21 academic year because of concerns over rising coronavirus cases in the area.
Andy Jenks, HCPS chief of communications and community engagement, shared the news in an online message to families Monday and noted that all out-of-season conditioning programs are also suspended for the time being.
“Over the last few weeks, we have been closely monitoring regional health data which shows a steep rise in COVID-19 cases across our region,” Jenks wrote. “We are already seeing the increase in community-based cases directly impact some of our teams in their out-of-season athletic conditioning programs. You may also know that on November 13th, Virginia tightened restrictions limiting the number of people who could attend indoor or outdoor athletic events, which meant having spectators would not be possible.”
The winter sports impacted are basketball, sideline cheerleading, gymnastics, indoor track, swimming and wrestling, all of which take place indoors.
“The circumstances described above created numerous challenges for our athletic programming, including the ability to keep our student-athletes safe and healthy,” Jenks wrote. “While we regret having to take this position, which will no doubt be disappointing to many of our student-athletes, we will always prioritize the health and safety of everyone involved.”
Jenks said that HCPS will reassess the fall sports season, which had been pushed back to the beginning of February, and the return of off-season workouts in January.
Some HCPS parents of high school student-athletes were not pleased with the decision, however.
“[I was] angry and sad for my son,” a parent, who asked not to be named, said in an interview with The Virginia Star. “I feel like the kids are missing out on so much already with not being in school. I see the first-hand struggles students are having being a teacher myself and just to take something else away from them I think it was not a good idea, not at all.
“[Students] are already emotionally struggling and I think this is just going to add to that. We definitely are not happy about this and I wish they would reverse it.”
The parent, whose son attends Deep Run High School and is on the wrestling team, said the decision is especially bad because her son missed last season with a shoulder injury and will now miss out on half of his high school sports career.
“He is only going to have his junior and senior year for colleges to really see him and I think it’s definitely going to be a disadvantage to not have at least three years under his belt,” the HCPS parent said.
Fellow HCPS parent Kevin Blankenship shared with The Star how his son, who plays football and wrestling at Deep Run, reacted to the news.
“He was crushed and extremely disappointed because this was his senior season,” Blankenship said. “He has gone to the state [championships] these last two years and thought this was his year. Just disappointed in the whole situation.”
For many student-athletes with aspirations of playing their sport at the collegiate level, like Blankenship’s son, missing a year or more of high school sports could seriously hurt their ability to get noticed by college scouts and coaches, and the chance at a scholarship.
The Star reached out to several athletics directors of HCPS high schools for comment on the decision, but did not get responses by press time.
As of now, 20 school districts – including Richmond, Arlington and others – and 37 total high schools have chosen to not participate in winter sports, according to the Virginia High School League (VHSL).
Conversely, there are many localities in the Commonwealth that plan to move forward with their winter sports. Those places include: Greene, Louisa, Albemarle and Orange counties as well as Charlottesville City, among others.
Under the VHSL’s Championship +1 schedule, winter sports teams will begin a shortened season starting from December 28 through February 20.
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