By Marty Gordon
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected high school student-athletes in many different ways. Seasons have been shut down or changed. Teams have faced tighter restrictions, and some players have opted out of this past year’s athletic programs.
One high school basketball player wanted to play so badly he took a rather radical action. Matt Simmons, from New Paltz, N.Y., packed up his gym bag and traveled 538 miles to the New River Valley and Christiansburg High School.
Simmons said he felt the change in address might be the only way he could receive attention from recruiters and have a chance at playing basketball in college.
“My sister goes to Virginia Tech and has a home here in Christiansburg, so it was a no-brainer. My mom and I moved here,” he said.
The 6-0 guard had played at his school in New York, but when it looked like this year’s winter season wouldn’t happen, he felt the move would be his only chance. He enrolled at Christiansburg High School and almost immediately was hit by the school system’s going virtual. Fall sports were shut down, and winter sports were left hanging on the edge.
Simmons spoke at a Montgomery County School Board meeting in November and asked the group to consider allowing athletes to play. “Let them play” became the rallying cry, and it brought a special meaning for him.
“That was the reason I moved here, and then there was a chance we would not play. I was concerned and felt I needed to speak out,” he said.
The school board agreed to let athletes play other county teams while eliminating junior varsity and middle school winter sports altogether, and the aspiring basketball player had hope.
COVID has affected few students as much as it has Simmons. “But in my case, it’s because I left my friends, left my school and left my family to move here.”
But the move has certainly worked out well for him. He had a 4.0 GPA his first semester and has moved into the Blue Demons’ starting lineup. He spends most of his day at the Christiansburg Recreation Center shooting basketball, then practicing or playing and doing his schoolwork.
“I have had the best school year I have ever had. My new teammates have accepted me, and I love the area,” Simmons said.
He hopes the move and the change in environment will lead to a path to playing college basketball and majoring in exercise science.