VHSL rescinds mask requirement for athletes

The Virginia High School League rescinded its requirement for athletes to wear masks during group training and competition in a news release on Monday.

On Thursday, the VHSL issued that mandate for all sports except wrestling, swimming, competition cheer and gymnastics based on a Virginia Department of Health advisory.

Earlier on Thursday, Gov. Ralph Northam’s new COVID-19 restrictions included a requirement that people five years of age and older must wear face coverings in indoor settings shared with others and when outdoors within six feet of another person. The VHSL mandate was based on information that Northam’s new guidelines would require athletes to wear masks during exercise.

However, as it turns out Northam’s Executive Order No. 72 has seven exceptions to face coverings, and one of them is “individuals exercising or using exercise equipment.”

“VHSL apologizes for any confusion created by its original release,” said VHSL executive director Billy Haun in the news release. “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, and it was that desire that motivated the original decision.”

The VHSL does strongly recommend the use of face masks whenever possible, though, and added “each school may continue to exercise its discretion and judgment as to safety steps within its athletics programs as it pertains to face coverings.”

After making it a requirement for James Wood’s athletes to wear masks during group training on Friday, Colonels coordinator of student activities Craig Woshner said in a phone interview that he told his athletic department to go back to the protocols for offseason workouts that were in place prior to Thursday’s VHSL mandate.

The schools in the Frederick County, Winchester and Clarke County school divisions will not participate in anything other than workouts until January at the earliest.

“We require masks whenever athletes are working in groups when they couldn’t maintain six-to-10-foot distance when they’re working indoors in confined areas, such as a weight room,” Woshner said. “And also, when they are engaged in non-cardiovascular activity, such as stretching, warm-ups, waiting before and after workouts, going to the restroom or locker room. They should be wearing masks at all times other than when they are physically and actively participating in a workout.”

James Wood senior basketball guard Ben Sites said on Monday going back to the prior protocols will help.

“It makes it a lot easier for us to play,” Sites said. ‘But I like said [in an interview on Friday], we’re just trying to do whatever [governing officials] tell us to have a season.”

Northam issued his new COVID-19 restrictions last week due to the rising number of cases in the state. Woshher pointed out to his athletic department on Monday that wearing masks for workouts could be a requirement in the future even though the VHSL rescinded that mandate.

“I would not be surprised if at some point that order does come into effect, depending on how cases trend throughout the winter,” Woshner said. “Everybody’s hopeful now that vaccines are actually rolling out. But it’s not a license to relax what we’ve been doing, because it’s going to be quite a long time before we can reach any kind of mass vaccination. I think we do have to be diligent, especially over the holidays.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
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