Three private high schools have become the first in the Roanoke and New River valleys to cancel their 2020-21 winter sports seasons because of COVID-19.
Roanoke Catholic, Faith Christian and Dayspring Christian will not field sports teams amid a rise of coronavirus cases in the region and a warning last week from a health official that playing sports during a pandemic is unsafe.
Roanoke Catholic normally fields varsity teams in boys and girls basketball, wrestling and swimming.
The Celtics compete in the Virginia Independent Conference and are members of the statewide Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association.
Faith Christian sponsors boys and girls varsity basketball, while Dayspring Christian in Blacksburg has a boys basketball program. Both schools are members of the Virginia Association of Christian Athletics.
Roanoke Catholic athletic director Matt Peck said his school’s administration was notified last week by its governing body, the Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Richmond, that “we need to cancel winter sports.”
Peck said Roanoke Catholic officials agreed after Dr. Cynthia Morrow, director of the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts, told local school superintendents last week “it is not safe to have close-contact sports.”
“I hate it for our athletes,” Peck said. “I’m very sad for our seniors.
“When you’ve got such high virus numbers in the area and you have your local public health experts recommending you not play sports, it’s hard to go against the experts.”
Faith Christian athletic director Tracey Minnix said Morrow’s comments influenced the private school located in Roanoke County in its decision to cancel winter sports.
Minnix said Faith Christian and Dayspring Christian are the only two VACA schools to pull the plug on winter sports so far.
“We did not want to ignore the warnings that were put out by Dr. Morrow,” Minnix said. “We took the [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines into consideration. We also took our own policy into consideration that we put in at the beginning of the year.”
Faith Christian competed this fall in cross country and boys soccer.
Roanoke Catholic postponed its fall sports, including football, into a condensed winter and spring season similar to the format adopted by the state’s public schools in the Virginia High School League.
Roanoke Catholic and Faith Christian are tuition-based private schools that have been holding in-person classes five days a week since the beginning of the fall semester.
“Our number one priority is to stay in school as long as possible in-person,” Minnix said. “We felt like that’s what parents are paying for, for us to provide the best education possible for their children.”
Faith Christian won the VACA state girls basketball championship for the third year in a row last season and finished with a 28-1 overall record.
“We were all so happy they were able to complete that season before COVID hit last spring,” Minnix said.
Roanoke Catholic played 25 boys basketball games in 2019-20. Peck said completing its schedule this year would have been a challenge regardless of the school’s decision to cancel the season.
“Some of the boarding schools in our conference like Blue Ridge, Miller School and [Virginia Episcopal] are going on long breaks at Thanksgiving and not coming back until mid-January,” the Roanoke Catholic AD said.
“And then they’re testing [for COVID] so they’ve got to quarantine for a week to wait for test results. They’re saying they’re playing, but they’re talking about a mid-January start time.”
“Most of them also have expressed concern about playing against day schools like ours that are not testing.”
Peck said the VIC plans to hold conference basketball tournaments. The VISAA state basketball tournaments are still scheduled for late February.
The Celtics are planning to play a shortened football season beginning in February or March. However, with VHSL teams limited to six games and a number of private schools including North Cross competing this fall, there are a limited number of possible opponents.
“We’re still hoping there might be some kind of condensed season but there are very few teams out there to play,” Peck said.
Peck said Roanoke Catholic was prepared to observe strict virus mitigation policies in order to play winter sports before the decision was made to cancel.
He said the school would not have used buses to transport athletes to road games. Instead, each athlete would have been required to ride in a car with a parent or the parent of another athlete.
“It would have been hard to monitor everything, all the social distancing, the sanitization, the masks,” he said.
“We would have done it. We would have done our best, but it would have made what is already a grueling winter season even more so.”
The three Timesland private schools joined a growing list of public schools that have opted out of playing the customary winter sports in 2020-21.
Schools in the city of Richmond, and assorted schools such as Surry County, Sussex Central, Park View-South Hill, Bluestone, Greensville County and Central-Lunenburg have canceled winter sports.