On Monday, the Virginia High School League's (VHSL) executive committee announced its updated plan for athletics in Virginia. After many weeks of discussion and the review of three different options, the committee has selected what it had deemed to be ‘Model 3’, which preserves all sports for the 2020-21 school year.

The VHSL is the principal sanctioning organization for interscholastic athletic competition among public high schools in Virginia.

Model 3 will delay all sports and adopt a condensed season plan. Winter sports are now scheduled to run from Dec. 14 through Feb. 20, with the first game slated for Dec. 28. Fall sports are slated to start on Feb. 15 and end on May 1, with the first game held March 1. Spring sports, including boys’ and girls’ lacrosse, are expected to take place from April 12 until June 26, with the first game held on April 26.

In recent weeks, US Lacrosse had actively advocated for Model 3, reaching out directly to the VHSL’s executive director, Billy Haun, and also mobilizing support among lacrosse constituents within the state. Parents, coaches, and officials were among those that contacted the VHSL in support of Model 3. 

“Our US Lacrosse members and supporters did a great job taking action and having their voices heard,” said Ann Kitt Carpenetti, Vice President of Lacrosse Operations at US Lacrosse. “We are so thankful for their advocacy and so pleased with the decision made by the VHSL’s leadership.”

In a two-page letter that Carpenetti sent to Haun on July 21, she noted that, “The VHSL has many considerations to mull over as they determine the best path forward for its schools and student athletes, but given the supporting information provided in this letter, we would strongly urge the Executive Committee to embrace the third model, which allows for a return of all high school sports in Virginia, with delayed starts and abbreviated schedules.”

Despite having shortened seasons, all sports would still be played if no further changes are mandated. 

"Everyone would probably play about 60% of the games that they would usually play," Haun said. 

Jon Crutchfield, the principal at Franklin County High School, seemed to express the opinion of most of the executive committee members.

“I just think Model 3 allows school divisions to do what's important first, and that's figure out how we're going to educate kids, and get comfortable with doing that," he said. "And then safely phase in athletics. Model 3 at least says to all of our athletes we're giving you a chance to play.”

Both of the other models that were being considered by the executive committee would have likely resulted in the cancellation of some sports seasons.  

In Model 1, all sports would have remained in the season where they are currently aligned, but sports considered to be at a high risk for infection, like football, would not have been played. Lower risk sports like golf and cross country might have been played. Under that plan, Haun indicated that it was unlikely that sports that didn't get played in the fall would get moved to another season. Instead, those sports would simply be cancelled for the year. 

In Model 2, fall and spring seasons would have been switched. That would mean sports in the low and moderate risk categories, including girls' lacrosse, might have been played this fall. Boys' lacrosse, categorized by the VHSL as a high-risk sport, would have been cancelled. 

Following the cancellation of spring sports in 2020, Models 1 and 2 could have potentially yielded the cancellation of lacrosse in Virginia for a second consecutive year, an unwelcome outcome that Carpenetti stressed in her letter to Haun.

She wrote, “Canceling a season for two consecutive years would have a devastating impact on the sport’s development in the state and on the student athletes who participate.”

In her correspondence, Carpenetti also highlighted US Lacrosse’s Return to Play recommendations, developed in consultation with medical and safety professionals. The guidelines seek to appropriately balance infection and injury risk with the desire to return to the field.

She noted that, “The consensus is that lacrosse is a moderate risk sport as it is played outdoors, does not have shared equipment, and there is not prolonged contact between players. In fact, with minor modifications, the sport can be played at even lower risk without changing the nature or spirit of the game.”

Monday’s VHSL decision did not provide any specifics regarding the question of playoffs, although Haun had indicated in earlier comments that those plans may be deferred. One possibility suggested was the implementation of sectional or regional championships in place full state championships.

“I think there are going to be some local health departments that may have some concerns and some local schools divisions that may have some concerns about travel," Haun said. "A state playoff situation may not be available to us if it involved traveling teams across the state.”

Despite Monday’s decision to move forward with all sports, the changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and Virginia’s evolving health protocols still causes plenty of uncertainly.

“Of course, who knows how the return to play next spring will all play out, but we will take this news as a win for lacrosse right now,” Carpenetti said.