No More Masks: VHSL Says Students Won’t Have to Wear Them During Games

By Brian Carlton

December 15, 2020

A clause in the governor’s latest executive order removes the requirement during exercise.

RICHMOND-Virginia students won’t have to wear masks during games or practice. The Virginia High School League announced that Monday, reversing their previous decision. As for what changed? VHSL officials said they took a closer look at Gov. Ralph Northam’s latest executive order. 

“VHSL apologizes for any confusion caused by its original release,” said VHSL Executive Director John Haun. “We ask the public to understand that it is the first mission of VHSL to make sure that athletics are conducted in a safe and healthy environment. It was that desire that motivated the original decision.” 

Confused? Let’s explain. On Dec. 10, Gov. Northam revised the state’s COVID-19 restrictions. In addition to installing an overnight curfew and restricting indoor gatherings, the order also expanded the state’s mask requirement. If you’re around people, indoors or outdoors,  you need to wear a mask. Hearing that order, VHSL officials made an announcement of their own. At that point, they told all schools that if a student wanted to play winter sports or compete in practice, they would have to wear a mask. 

However, a closer look at the governor’s new order brought out several exemptions. First, all schools from K-12 to universities are exempt from the 10-person indoor gatherings limit. Second, the order states that the mask requirement “does not apply to individuals exercising or using exercise equipment.” 

That means students at all levels can compete without wearing a mask. At least, the VHSL isn’t requiring one. 

“Each school may continue to exercise its discretion and judgement,” Haun said in his statement Monday. 

Are We Playing? 

Now yes, high school and middle schools are still allowed to start playing later this month. But that doesn’t mean capacity crowds can come watch. Northam’s order last week limits the number of people allowed at any sporting event. For indoor events, only a total of 25 people can watch in person. For outdoor sports, each player can have two guests. 

Also, fans, event staff and even coaches have to wear masks at all times. That part is non-negotiable. If you want to watch the game, you have to wear a mask. Athletes meanwhile will have to wear a mask when they’re on the bus, traveling to and from games. Players will also have to change the way they celebrate. The rules make it clear there “should be no hugging, high fives, handshakes or fist bumps.”

Even some rules will change. No jump balls in basketball. Instead, there’s a twist on the typical home field advantage. The visiting team, boys and girls, will get the first possession. A coin toss decides the first possession in overtime. Cheerleaders, meanwhile, will have to stay six feet apart during routines. 

VHSL Sets the Start Date 

Boys and girls basketball teams started practicing Dec. 7. The other winter sports, including diving, gymnastics, indoor track, swimming and wrestling, all started back on Monday. Under the new schedule, the first game for any high school sport can take place Dec. 21. Their seasons will run through Feb. 20. 

As for fall sports, teams will have to wait a while. They can start practicing Feb. 4, with first games scheduled for March 1. This includes all football teams, golf, volleyball, field hockey, cross country and cheerleading squads.

Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].

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