Challenges mount after another winter and spring sports delay

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The WVSSAC has once again been tasked with creating a new calendar for high school sports seasons following Governor Jim Justice’s announcement on Wednesday that all activities will remain shut down until at least March 1.

On November 13, Justice delayed the start of winter sports practices until January 11. Wednesday’s announcement extended the delay by another six weeks. The Governor did not specify if the March 1 date is when practices or competitions could begin for basketball, swimming and wrestling teams.

“What I don’t know, and we will get further clarification going forward, is March 1st the first practice or is March 1st the first game? Obviously that makes a big difference in about two-and-a-half weeks of practices and game time available,” said WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan in a MetroNews Talkline interview.

WVSSAC staff will consult with coaches and athletic directors next week to develop a revised calendar. In a normal year, winter and spring sports seasons would be played in a span of 208 days. This year, that window will be reduced to 117 days or less.

Dolan is hopeful that teams can be allowed some type of conditioning window prior to the start of official preseason practices.

“In my mind, if you are in a classroom or you are in a practice, the practice has much more control. The coach can limit the number of people who are there, 10, 12, 15 people total at a time. I think it can be done safely. So we are hoping that over time we can communicate with the Governor and get to the point where we will be able to at least practice and condition for these kids.”

Unless a change to the current policy is allowed, no team activities for any sport will be conducted in December, January and at least some portion of February.

“Emotionally and socially, getting together is just as important as the actual practice,” Dolan said.

“We think that a little flexibility could go a long way for the welfare of these kids.”

In 2020, state basketball tournaments were canceled. Spring sports seasons never started. Fall sports endured a tumultuous November as a result of being tied to the state’s COVID metrics map. Berkeley County soccer teams were not allowed to compete in soccer playoffs. 6 of the 24 teams that qualified for the state volleyball tournament could not play. Only 22 of a traditional 45 football playoff games were actually contested and no state championship games were held. The state cheer competition has been postponed indefinitely.

Winter and spring sports seasons generally crossover each other for a few weeks. That window will likely be extended this year and smaller schools may struggle to field spring sports teams due to the overlap.

“There is usually a three-week overlap. I would expect the seasons could be shorter with a little bit more of an overlap, maybe five weeks instead of three.

“At the small schools, if you are still playing basketball, those same kids run track or play baseball or softball. They have less ability to have two different seasons going at the same time.”

With increasing numbers of athletes playing in ‘offseason’ travel leagues, some may have to choose which teams to compete with. AAU basketball tournaments are often used to gain exposure to college coaches.

“In April and May, normally basketball is over and these kids have gone on to AAU or travel ball. So if we extend basketball too far, there are going to be kids who are going to have to choose. Am I going to play for the school team or if I am going to play for my travel team? The good teams, kids will probably stay. But if I am the best kid on the team and I am playing travel and the rest of the team is not very good, I can see them going to play for the travel team.”

High school winter sports are underway to some degree in Ohio and Virginia. Competitions are scheduled to begin in Kentucky, Maryland and Pennsylvania in early January.

Dolan acknowledges that even during the three-month shutdown of team activities, athletes are finding ways to practice and gear up for seasons that will hopefully happen. He is hopeful that a similar system to what was employed in the summer can be added.

“I would like to be able to get together to do conditioning. These kids will have been off for three months. They need to be doing something before they get back for the first day of practice. Even if it is like we did in June where it was small pods and the coaches controlled that in ten or less, I think we can do that and get them together.

“Because quite honestly, if you live on the border, these kids are going across the state line and playing somewhere else anyway. If you are in a community that has a private facility, they are going in there anyway. I would rather coaches had control so that they can make sure they are safe and getting their needs met.”





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