By Marty Gordon
Student-athletes in Montgomery County schools and at Radford High School are still waiting for a chance to play as local public schools battle COVID-19 by cancelling and postponing winter sporting events.
Danny Knott, director of human resources and athletics in the county, calls it a struggle every day. “We want to get our student-athletes playing. We just can’t right now,” he told school board members earlier this week.
It’s a battle many parents want changed. The “Let Them Play” movement was seen Tuesday night in the parking lot of the county administration building. Inside, the school board listened to Knott with open minds. Outside, youngsters stood in one accord with signs and chants asking the board to consider an exception to the current policy.
For now, the group and the school system are following a standard set late last year decreeing that if the positive number of COVID cases remains in the “high” category, sports will not be played.
The problem for county student-athletes is that those numbers continue to show an upward swing and are in the “high number” category in terms of COVID-19 positive cases being reported in the county.
Montgomery County’s public schools are following “Return to Play Criteria” approved late last year. In addition, they are using the “Virginia High School Phase III Guidelines” as the COVID cases have not been trending down over the past two weeks.
“We continue to look at those numbers and monitor them as we move forward,” Knott said. For now, Montgomery County remains in the high-risk category. Once the metrics trend downward for a 14-day period, high school athletic competition can begin.
As of Wednesday morning, Virginia health officials have reported 377,300 coronavirus cases and 5,226 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began. This includes 5,387 new confirmed and probable diagnoses — marking the highest single-day spike in new cases since the start of the pandemic — and 35 new confirmed and probable fatalities across the commonwealth. Montgomery County has been averaging 30-40 new cases on a daily basis. The county has recorded a total of 5,398 cases, 115 hospitalizations and 43 deaths since the pandemic’s beginnings.
The “MCPS Return to Play Criteria” was approved by Region VI superintendents from Allegheny, Covington, Craig, Botetourt, Roanoke County, Roanoke City, Salem, Montgomery, Floyd, Franklin, Patrick, Henry, Martinsville, Pittsylvania and Danville. Botetourt recently pulled out of the plan and has begun some competition.
Montgomery County’s activity calendar for the high schools is littered with the cancellation and postponement of athletic events.
Knott said in most cases, county athletic directors are adjusting on a daily and weekly basis. According to Knott, the AD’s are typically told on Friday if they can begin play in the next week. Recently, however, the school system has pushed the scheduling out for two weeks because of the coronavirus metrics currently in place.
The Virginia High School League, which governs the state’s public schools, is still sticking to a shortened winter season, which would conclude in mid-February. By then, a shortened “fall” season would commence and would last for approximately nine weeks before the true spring sports seasons would begin.
The “Let Them Play” movement includes a new Facebook page that has been flooded with comments and videos from parents and athletes.
Some of those individuals addressed the school board during the public address session Tuesday. Christiansburg senior wrestler Kyle Keister is one of those who remains in limbo this winter.
“With wrestling, you really need to get as much time on the mat as you can because that’s where most of your technique is going to come from,” Keister said. “For people like me who have been wrestling only a couple of years, I get most of my practice time on the mat and I need it.”
Keister said that in many cases like his, athletics gives the students a chance to gain a scholarship to further their education. For now, he is not being given the opportunity to impress college recruiters who might be watching from afar.
Kate Henley, whose son Caleb plays basketball and football at Christiansburg High School, expressed similar sentiment. Athletics, she said, in some cases gives the student-athletes extra motivation to get better grades and impress college coaches.
Across the river in Radford, the boys’ basketball program shut down its day-to-day activities and contests after at least five players reported some type of COVID-19 contact. Hopes are that competition can resume next Monday.