By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Dec. 17 — When should athletes wear masks, how to enforce mask policies, VHSL guidelines and funding for winter sports were topics of discussion at Monday night’s Page County School Board meeting.
The Virginia High School League has flip-flopped on policies regarding masks in athletic competition in recent days — going from requiring facial covers during competition to backing off that initial decision and simply recommending it. However, athletes will be required to wear masks at all other times.
That means wearing masks during warm-ups, practice, open gyms, workouts and other training — and it’s something that Superintendent Wendy Gonzalez plans to enforce.
“Masks are not going to be required during competition, but strongly recommended. It will not be enforced during games,” Dr. Gonzales told school board members on Monday night.
The superintendent recently sent an email to all coaches noting the importance of following through with all protocols, and the penalties for not complying — potentially forfeiting the occurrence of the next scheduled event, be it a practice or a district game.
Dr. Gonzalez noted that she had “popped in” on a recent open gym and saw players participating with no masks. That’s something she said coaches have to crack down on, noting “higher expectations” in her recent email.
Financial support for winter athletics was also a key concern, as limitations on attendance will greatly reduce gate revenues from ticket sales. According to Governor Ralph Northam’s Nov. 10 press conference on new public health restrictions, sporting events will be limited to 25 per venue for indoor activities and two guests per player for outdoor events.
Page Schools have agreed to enter a five-year contract with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) and pay about $2,500 per high school to have two Pixellot cameras installed at each gymnasium and each football field to livestream athletics and special events. The school system is also considering an agreement with PVN Sports to provide audio commentary to accompany selected live-streamed games.
With an estimated cost of $15,000 per school to provide officials for the remainder of the year, the loss in revenue could further alter schedules — beyond rising COVID cases and winter weather.
“On any given day, things could pivot,” Dr. Gonzalez said. “We just need to be ready to pivot.”
Currently, Page County High School has enough in its athletic fund to cover its costs for the remainder of the year, but Luray High School could fall short of its anticipated expenses, according to figures presented on Monday by the superintendent.
School board members discussed the potential of covering any shortfall, but also mentioned the uncertainty local schools face on upcoming state funding due to a lower than projected enrollment (or ADM). This is a problem nearly every school system across the state faces in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Governor Northam’s biennium budget that he presented on Wednesday calls for local school systems to retain the $513.5 million the state could have saved in K-12 funding due to lower enrollment figures during the pandemic. Northam stated the loss of those funds “would devastate our public educational system,” but the final decision will be up to state legislators when the General Assembly convenes in January.
Dr. Gonzalez stated that local schools should know their level of state funding soon, but may have to make adjustments to the budget in coming months to allow for any shortfall.
Meanwhile, tryouts for winter sports that were postponed for two weeks on Dec. 4 by the school system will now resume on Monday, Dec. 21 with the first basketball games scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 6. Originally set to kickoff the season on Monday, the schedules have already been adjusted twice.
Whether it’s COVID cases among coaches or players of local teams, or their opponents — in addition to the weather — it’s almost certain that winter sports schedules will continue to change.
“We are going into this [winter season],” Dr. Gonzalez said Monday night, “fully knowing there will be times when games will have to be canceled.”
Schedules for VHSL events for both Luray and Page County High School may be found under the “Calendar” prompt on the Bull Run District website.