Jeff Williams has been involved with Giles High School’s football program as a player or coach for 40 years.
Monday, he got a cold slap of reality when the VHSL officially postponed its 2020 football season along with the rest of the fall sports — volleyball, golf, cross country, field hockey and competitive cheer — until the winter and spring of 2021.
As the weather turns crisp and cool this fall, there will be no sound of pads popping.
There will be no smell of popcorn popping.
Instead, the balloon of sports normalcy has burst.
The VHSL fall sports season, like spring sports before it, has become a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a little shocking,” Williams said Monday. “It really is.”
Williams feared this day was coming in March when the VHSL canceled spring sports and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam closed the state’s schools.
With most school systems in the state adopting hybrid models of in-person and virtual classrooms this fall and the Virginia Department of Health reporting 1,505 positive cases of the coronavirus Monday, the Giles head coach knew what to expect.
“When this thing started [in March] I kind of knew this might happen,” he said. “I was hoping it wouldn’t.”
While the VHSL set a new, condensed sports calendar — traditional winter sports from Dec. 28 to Feb. 20, fall sports from March 1 to May 1, and spring sports from April 26 to June 26 — Monday’s 34-1 Executive Committee vote left many questions unanswered.
Foremost for Christiansburg athletic director Tim Cromer is wondering how to rip up the schedules already set and come up with new dates for the sports in shortened seasons.
The VHSL will allow teams to play approximately 60% of its normal amount of regular-season events along with a yet-to-be-determined postseason schedule.
VHSL executive director Billy Haun said Monday during a video conference that the league will inform its member schools by the end of August what a possible postseason schedule might entail.
Cromer and others would like to know.
There are only nine weeks in the “spring” football season. So, is that six regular-season games and a partial postseason?
Is that eight regular-season games and a postseason “bowl” game for all schools?
Does it mean there will not be any 2020-21 VHSL football state champions?
Would more schools prefer an extra home game and the revenue generated over a playoff system their team might not qualify for anyway requiring travel to other parts of the state?
“I’m envisioning if it’s region final, state semifinal, state final, then you would get six [regular-season] games,” the Christiansburg AD said. “Or, if you’re not playing a final you could get eight play dates and a bowl game.
“I don’t think football will do a playoff, simply because you can only play once a week.”
Cromer is more concerned with how he will rearrange his 2020-21 schedules that were solidified months ago.
“If you’re playing 60% of your schedule and the River Ridge [District] has seven teams you’d just play a district schedule, but you can’t play region [opponents],” he said. “Is Franklin County going to drive to Richmond to play a region game? That’s not going to happen.
“The VHSL is going to say like they do anyway, ‘We’ve got to have a region champion by this date and it’s up to you to figure it out.’ We’re going to be doing a free-for-all scheduling. I think that’s going to be a nightmare.
“It’s only the tip of the iceberg as far as getting it all done, but at least we have a direction now.”
With the fall and winter sports seasons essentially flip-flopped, athletic directors must now worry about finding enough practice space for football teams at the end of their seasons and boys and girls soccer and lacrosse teams that typically use the same fields.
Cromer also wonders if Christiansburg can still fit the annual Big Blue Invitational wrestling tournament into its schedule and whether teams coming from outside the state or region will be allowed to travel.
Coaches in other sports have similar concerns.
Northside’s boys basketball team played in five invitational events in 2019-20 including its own long-running Northside Invitational and the Chance Harman Classic in Floyd.
With scheduling and possible travel limitations, how many of those events will even be held in 2020-21, particularly if indoor gatherings are limited under Virginia’s current Phase III recovery and spectators are unable to attend?
“First we have to hear from the district and find out what kind of schedule we have,” Northside boys basketball coach Bill Pope said. “My first thought is, I want to have it, but are we going to have the teams and we’ve got to have the fans.
“I’m guessing whether that will even be allowed to happen.”
VHSL golfers will be wearing cold-weather gear when their season begins in March.
“Yeah, it’s going to be chilly,” Lord Botetourt coach Todd Smith said. “I was talking to someone in Abingdon the other day and asked him, ‘It’s going to be colder down there. How are you possibly going to get ready.’”
The VHSL’s new calendar also means the spring sports season will run almost to July, at a time when many athletes are playing on non-school sanctioned travel teams, many of which have been up and running full blast this summer.
Blacksburg rising senior Frank Thompson, a two-time VHSL Class 4 boys singles champion in tennis, thinks the later finish to the season will cause top young players to bypass the high school sport because many national junior events are scheduled in late June.
“It’s like the worst possible thing that could have happened,” Thompson said. “I don’t see a lot of the top players even playing high school tennis.
“I’ll have to decide if I can even do that. That’s right in the middle of national clay courts.”
Athletes might be forced to choose between committing to a high school season that might not happen or playing for a travel team that could earn them needed exposure to college coaches.
Hopewell rising senior TreVeyon Henderson, the state’s Gatorade high school football player of the year in 2019, already has said he would skip a spring football season.
At Giles, Williams is concerned that some of his football players might elect to cross the state line and enroll at a high school in West Virginia so they can play in 2020.
West Virginia has pushed its fall sports season back two weeks.
“Us being a border school, are some of my kids going to enroll at James Monroe and play football?” Williams said. “That rumor is out there.”
An athlete who competes in a sport would not be allowed to return to the VHSL and play the same sport in a different season under VHSL rules.
Williams touched on another aspect of the coronavirus that some high school fans might be overlooking in their focus on youth sports.
“It scares me a little bit,” the Giles coach said. “I’m 55 years old. I’m in that danger zone for some people. I’m a little worried about going in for weight lifting tomorrow.
“I don’t see us doing high school sports until there’s a vaccine out there. It’s hard to be optimistic right now.”
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!