Henrico student-athletes rally to bring winter sports back

Governor Northam revises restrictions for sporting events

Henrico athletes rally to bring winter sports back

HENRICO Co., Va. (WWBT) - Despite revised restrictions for sporting events across the Commonwealth, student-athletes in Henrico County will not have to worry about those guidelines since their winter season was canceled.

The Henrico County Public School System made the decision on Nov. 30 to cancel all winter sports for the 2020-2021 year.

The notice informed students and parents that the step was due to a steep rise in COVID-19 cases; it’s intended to protect the health and safety of student-athletes and coaches.

All off-season conditioning is being suspended until further notice as well.

On Thursday, student-athletes and parents gathered outside the New Bridge Learning Auditorium where a school board work session was being held, to protest that decision.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Omari DeVeaux, a basketball player at Douglas Freeman High School.

After spending the last three years playing on the team, DeVeaux will not be spending the winter months of his senior year on the basketball court.

“This sport has always helped me with life,” he said. “It helps me get through tough times and helps me take away my stress - it’s a stress reliever. "

It’s why DeVeaux started a petition to bring winter sports back to county schools. Parents have also joined the effort.

“It’s so important to kids’ mental health right now and physical health,” said Danielle Harris, a parent to two student-athletes.

Governor Ralph Northam also addressed sports in his Thursday briefing.

He encouraged school systems to find ways to make sporting events safe.

“I would encourage schools to find creative ways of allowing spectators - streaming games online for example,” he said.

“We can make it work and everybody should be trying to make it work,” said HCPS parent Christine Williams.

Those revised restrictions come in the form of 25 spectators per field indoors and two guests per player for outdoor sports.

“Whether there’s one spectator there or none, we don’t care, we just want our kids to play and we want them to have that outlet,” Williams said.

“Schools should also consider moving sports outside if they can,” Northam said. “Just because school basketball is typically played indoors doesn’t mean it has to be.”

While HCPS has canceled winter sports, some of these athletes are worried about the future seasons for spring sports and fall sports which were already rescheduled.

“There is a little bit of worry due to the sports before us,” said Elias Brooks, who plays baseball at Glen Allen High School. “I do also play basketball for the school and I know COVID is getting bad.”

On Thursday, HCPS spokesman Andy Jenks released the following statement:

“We empathize with the disappointment and heartbreak that the cancelation of this winter athletic season has caused our athletes, coaches and so many across the community. We know firsthand how important athletics are to our students and our school communities, and we agree that athletics contribute to the overall health, motivation and well-being of our students. The impact that the loss of the winter athletic season has on the individual athletes is not lost on us.

This decision was not made without weighing many factors. Given the worsening COVID-19 metrics in our local area, and the nature of winter athletics being indoors involving close contact between competitors, coaches, officials, school employees and volunteers, division leadership was advised of significant concerns regarding safety and the viability of maintaining the VHSL winter athletic schedule. Because of our commitment to ensuring health and safety of our staff, students and the community, including all of the people directly and indirectly involved in athletic competitions and practices, we made this decision not to participate in VHSL winter athletics.

While we support our students, who have every right to feel the way they’re feeling, we know that other school divisions are still actively determining if they, too, will continue to participate in the VHSL winter athletic program.

Our efforts remain anchored around doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of the HCPS community. "

On Tuesday, Hanover County Public Schools suspended practices and paused activities, but has not officially canceled the winter season.

Currently, winter sports at Chesterfield County Public Schools will continue as planned.

Copyright 2020 WWBT. All rights reserved.