High school sports are off to good start this fall

Around noon on the final Thursday of June, the Falls Church football team was broken up into four small groups across two turf fields, about 40 yards between them.

Each pack of players had one coach with it, and he wore a mask at all times. There were no footballs or other significant pieces of equipment. Trying to stay distanced as much as they could, the players ran through conditioning drills.

Earlier, when they arrived for the second workout ahead of an unconventional and uncertain football season, each player took his own temperature.

“We’re just going to go two days a week until we get some progress,” Coach Said Aziz said after coming off the field. “There’s no reason to bring these kids out every single day not knowing what’s going to happen.”

About a month before fall practices typically start, this is how high school sports are tentatively, carefully trying to gear up. As government and school officials sort through academic options, fall sports — which in this area include football, soccer, field hockey, cross-country, tennis, volleyball and golf — hang in the balance.

In Virginia and Maryland, football practices are scheduled to begin July 30 and Aug. 12, respectively. The D.C. State Athletic Association had not set a practice date before stay-at-home orders began in the spring, but last year it opened Aug. 1. Most schools have games scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 28.

Those dates seem to be in jeopardy as the country continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic. And officials who run high school sports organizations are still waiting and hoping for a clearer picture.

Aaron Brady, the football coach at St. Mary’s Ryken, said his team scheduled its first practice for Aug. 6. But he doesn’t expect to start on time, especially considering football, with so much contact among players, is one of the highest-risk sports, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

“I want to play, but honestly I don’t feel good,” Wise football coach DaLawn Parrish said. “We’re right now entering July, and we haven’t got what we’re going to do with school yet. And football starts mid-August? I don’t feel good.”

‘No way that was going to happen’

The uncertainty of the coronavirus demands caution, but time is becoming a factor. The Virginia High School League waited and watched public health trends for months until the executive board hoped its special meeting June 25 might finally produce clarity. Athletic directors told coaches to circle that date; by then, they thought, everyone might have answers.

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