February football will present challenges

All area football teams know the days in which they’re going to be playing games in the winter and spring of 2021.

Pretty much everything else involves unknowns, new challenges, and a lot of hoping for the best.

“We still don’t know what the actual protocols are going to be in regards to the [Virginia High School League], and some of the guidelines in regards to mitigation [of COVID-19],” Clarke County football coach and athletic director Casey Childs said. “Whatever guidelines we have to follow, that’s going to be a struggle.

“But our kids have been making things work. Kids are adaptable, and I know our kids will be able to adapt to whatever mitigation protocols we have.”

Virginia and the VHSL will need to move beyond Phase III for football games to take place. Even if the state does see sufficient improvement with COVID-19, it’s unlikely that football teams — not to mention the rest of the fall sports — will have smooth sailing.

Football practice is slated to begin on Feb. 4, with the first games slated for Monday, Feb. 22. (Clarke County opens at East Rockingham that day. A doubleheader featuring Handley vs. James Wood and Millbrook vs. Sherando will kick off the season for the four Winchester-Frederick County schools on Saturday, Feb. 27 at Handley.)

Six regular-season games will be played in less than seven weeks (the second play date for Bull Run District schools, for example, is Feb. 27, and the last one is scheduled for April 2-3). The regional playoffs will begin April 9-10 (four teams from each region will make the playoffs). The four-week postseason will end with the state finals on May 1.

Football teams never have to worry about their athletes arriving late to their teams because fall sports always go first in late July or early August during the summer break from school, but now they will.

The basketball region tournament deadline is Feb. 13 and the state tournament runs through Feb. 20, two days before the first game. The Class 2 and Class 4 state wrestling tournaments are scheduled for Feb. 19 and 20, respectively, while the Class 4 state indoor track & field meet is scheduled for March 1. Swimming state meets are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 13, but since venues haven’t been secured those could occur later.

Athletes won’t be able to finish up their winter sport one day and jump into a football game the next. Football players need to practice five times (three days in helmets, then an additional two days in helmets and shoulder pads) before they’re eligible to play in a game.

“Anybody that’s in that postseason, those guys, it’s going to be a struggle to make sure we get guys that can at least be around to see what’s going on,” Childs said.

James Wood coach Ryan Morgan pointed out that for wrestlers, it could be a major adjustment transitioning to football.

“I’m a little concerned about some kids who might wrestle and cut weight and then go straight info football season, where they won’t have time to bulk up,” Morgan said. “I’m a little concerned about that health aspect.”

Judges coach Dan Jones said many basketball and wrestling seasons over the years have been affected by long football seasons at Handley. His team will just have to adjust if they’re without athletes from winter sports.

“It may hinder us a little bit at the beginning, but [if winter sports athletes] are still competing, then it’s a great opportunity for them,” Jones said. “I’ll look at it as a positive, because that means they’re successful.”


Football players are used to starting their seasons in the warmth of late July or early August before the school year has even started. It’s common to see football players out on the field at 8:30 p.m., because at that point there’s usually some daylight left.

There won’t be any preseason practices ending at 8:30 p.m. for the upcoming season. Daylight won’t last much past 5 p.m., and football teams won’t get an extra hour of daylight until March 8, more than a month after practice has started and after many teams have already played three games. In a normal year, daylight usually doesn’t become an issue until the first week of the playoffs.

None of the five area teams have light standards stationed by their practice areas.

“We’re going to have a very short time to be outside,” Childs said. “You’re going to have to really use your time wisely. I don’t think anybody is going to waste a single second of time.”

Teams likely won’t want to make much use of their game fields to practice given the potential for poor weather in February and March. There have been times in the past where spring sports athletes have been forced to spend February and much of March practicing indoors because of snow.

While Handley doesn’t have lights on campus for any of its outdoor sports activities, the Judges will generally benefit from having artificial turf.

“Thank goodness we do have that capability, having turf,” Jones said. “A little bit of snow, a little bit of rain, it doesn’t affect us as much as it would if we were on natural grass.”

Any football team that’s forced indoors to practice might have to get creative with scheduling and finding a space to practice in February. Winter sports teams could still be making heavy of facilities inside the school if they make deep postseason runs. With volleyball starting practice on Feb. 15, the week leading up to the football season opener could be problematic, especially if schools have strict COVID-19 protocols.

“I really hope and pray for decent weather so we can get out as much as possible,” Childs said.

Teams will do as much as they can prior to February so any potential issues with weather and daylight won’t hurt them too much once the games start.

“As long as things are pointed in the right direction [with COVID-19], obviously we’ll pick up our practices that we do [once sport-specific training begins at Sherando],” Sherando coach Bill Hall said.

There’s certainly a number of obstacles. But players will be thankful for any opportunity they get. They already are.

“Being out here with all my guys and getting to prepare for the upcoming season, and really just work, it means a lot,” said Sherando junior quarterback Dylan Rodeffer after Wednesday’s 7-on-7 session with Millbrook.

Jones said, “Other than the fact that we’re starting colder than normal, I don’t think the February start is going to affect high school kids. The fact that they’re going to get out there and get an opportunity to play, I don’t think there’s going to be any issues as far as their enthusiasm.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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