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SW Virginia squads begin first work since shutdown

Kevin Mays • Jun 23, 2020 at 4:30 PM

J.I. Burton football players were excited to get back to Lawson-Fitchko Stadium, even if it was just to run up and down the rows of seats where fans hope to be sitting this fall to watch the Raiders play.

Monday was the school’s first day of “return to sports” since the coronavirus-related shutdown of all VHSL activities.

“We’re mainly doing some work in the weight room and we’ve laid a ladder down out on the practice field and letting them do some foot work. And they’re running some stadiums,” Burton coach Jacob Caudill said.

The VHSL released guidelines for the return of sports on Friday, saying they’re “recommended for use as school divisions develop their own specific requirements for the Phase II COVID Mitigation Health Plans for Public Schools.”

Some area school systems have adopted their own plans in conjunction with the guidelines. Because of restrictions, no actual practice activities can take place in the second of the three-phase protocol. Nearly every sport is restricted to conditioning.

The biggest difference in local plans and the VHSL-suggested guidelines is schools are initially limiting workouts to 10 individuals — players and coaches — while the guidelines allow for groups up to 50.

BUSY DAYS

With most programs limiting groups to 10, different groups are working out at staggered times throughout the day.

Caudill said he has scheduled six groups of either eight or nine players with either one or two coaches per group. That translates to good numbers for the defending Region 1D runner-up Raiders.

“We have about 56 kids in grades 8 to 12 showing up,” Caudill said. “We started our first group at 7 a.m. It’s worked out pretty well. We’re going to have workouts Monday through Thursday and give them Friday, Saturday and Sunday off.”

Despite the conditioning-only agenda, Caudill said excitement abounds in camp.

“They’re excited,” he said. “They’re ready to go. Hopefully, it sticks and we don’t have another shutdown.”

Down the road from Norton, organized conditioning started at both Eastside and Union. They, too, are working in groups staggered throughout the day for football and other sports.

“It’s going to be some long days,” Eastside coach Mike Rhodes said. “But we’re excited to get back. We want to get back to normal as soon as possible, but we want to make sure it as done as safe as possible.”

“It’s exciting getting the kids back out there,” Union athletic director Elijah Helton said. “It’s a start. It’s limited, but it gives us hope. Hopefully, we can kick off the fall season sometime this fall.”

COMING UP

At Wise Central, football coach Luke Owens said he hopes to have his players working out and conditioning starting Wednesday.

“We want to make sure we have everything cleaned and ready to go,” Owens said. “I just hope it’s not all for nothing.”

Gate City, Twin Springs and Rye Cove also could be conducting organized workouts by Wednesday.

Brent Roberts, Gate City’s AD, said school officials met Monday to discuss the back-to-sports provisions. Meetings with coaches are planned for Tuesday and workouts could begin either Wednesday or Thursday, Roberts said.

In Lee County, workouts are scheduled to begin Thursday.

“We had a meeting in Lee County today and now we have to get the info to the kids,” said Thomas Walker football coach Nick Johnson. “The biggest thing with us is the ability to be around each other and have some sense of normal.”

Johnson said the sticking to the guidelines will be a chore, but a worthwhile one.

“It’s going to be rough, but it’s a start,” the coach said.

New Ridgeview football coach Todd Tiller said he and his staff met with players Monday morning to give them waiver and physical forms.

“We are starting next Monday evening,” he said.

THE FUTURE

No one knows at this point when sports will move beyond the conditioning phase.

The VHSL Executive Committee is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Return to School” plan and the related return to sports. But until the governor takes further action, the third phase for sports will be begin, the VHSL announced Monday.

“The executive committee cannot create and release a working fall schedule and calendar for sports and activities until further guidelines are released,” the league said in a release.

“It’s important to note that if nothing changes between today and Thursday, definitive answers on fall sports will be determined later,” VHSL Executive Director Dr. John W. “Billy” Haun said. “The governor’s return to school plan outlines an action plan for Phase I, II and III, but has no specific guidelines for athletics and extracurricular activities.”

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