Despite controversy, most winter sports begin with modifications

Winter is associated with many things: hot cocoa by the fireplace, snow, family gatherings and, for many students, sports. While it is clear that the winter sports season will not be like before, at the moment, it is happening nonetheless.

“[The Virginia High School League (VHSL)] has made it extremely flexible with schools [and] school districts, so whenever a school district feels that they can play, they can figure out a way to move in and participate,” Ms. Carol Callaway, the Director of Student Activities, said.

On November 5, 2020, Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán announced that Arlington Public Schools (APS) would not take part in the VHSL winter sports season, which had already been pushed back and shortened to about 60 percent of a normal season.

“All in all I thought it was a responsible choice,” junior and co-captain of the girls basketball team Taylor Fowler said. “I want to play, I want to have a season, the seasons are always fun but I feel like what’s less fun is putting family members and other people at risk.”

While some understood the reasoning behind the decision — many said they agreed with the decision more as cases began to rise — the public response was overall negative. Tiffany McAvoy, the parent of Wakefield, Arlington tech, and Gunston students, who had already been pushing to bring back sports, took matters into her own hands by creating a petition with the goal of reversing this decision.

“There are so many benefits to athletics beyond exercise, [including] improved academics, teamwork and mental health,” McAvoy said. “Especially at this time with [COVID-19] when many teenagers are at home struggling with classes…so many of these kids need a healthy outlet.”

The results were overwhelming. She quickly reached 1,800 signatures and on November 10, Dr. Durán reversed his decision. The majority of winter sports, with the exceptions of wrestling and winter cheer, are currently having seasons. 

“[After] hearing how many people were really on board with playing, and certainly the petition was a big part of that because that’s an easy way for people to sign, and I know [Dr. Durán] got lots of emails and things too,” McAvoy said. “I think it was sort of all together [that he decided to reverse the decision].”

These seasons are still modified, however. Masks will be worn throughout and no spectators will be permitted.

“A lot of people’s motivation comes from their friends coming to watch and being able to get everyone to see [the game] happening,” Fowler said. “It’s just not the same, people are just going to be less motivated.”

One solution to this is live streaming. This has yet to be confirmed, however, the school is looking at placing cameras in both the gym and stadium. The original purpose of this would be for the benefit of coaches and players, but, in a COVID-19 world, this could also allow other students and parents to remain engaged.

“[Live streaming] is something we had hoped to have prior to [COVID-19] … so it’s been in the works for months, but we’re just very hopeful that we can do that,” Ms. Callaway said.

Another change is that what was previously called “indoor track” is now “winter track” and will take place completely outdoors. This is similar to many other districts throughout Virginia and was designed in Arlington to increase the safety of students and coaches.

“A lot of schools do winter track already,” Ms. Callaway said. ”It’s indoor track officially, but they don’t have indoor facilities like Arlington does.”

Despite modifications creating a different environment than athletes are used to, sports will  be played in a normal fashion. As the seasons begin and cases rise, however, many athletes have concerns about safety.

“I feel like if the numbers start going up, well, they’re already going up by a lot, but if they start going up by even more, I think they should probably look into cancelling the season just to make sure everyone stays safe, because we’re playing indoors,” sophomore, and member of the girls basketball team, Carolyn Bohnert said.

Dr. Durán has said he will continue to look at the numbers and may once again reverse this second decision at any time.

“APS makes the best plans they can, with the information they have for a timeline, but the [COVID-19] data drives everything,” Ms. Callaway said. “We don’t want to put our staff and our students [at] harm in any way.”

Despite this, many people throughout the county are hopeful that sports will create some consistency in their lives.

“Instead of just saying ‘no,’ let’s just figure out how we can do it,” McAvoy said. “Things are different, but there’s tons of people in the community and parents and students who have lots of great ideas, are willing to help and make things happen.”