Frederick County XC, cheer to compete in VHSL fall season

Frederick County cross country and competition cheer athletes are going to get to participate in the Virginia High School League fall season — including the postseason — after all.

The coordinators of student activities at the three Frederick County schools of James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando have been posting the schedules for some of their teams this week. Schedules that were revealed on Tuesday showed that their cross country and competition cheer teams will all begin competitions within the first two weeks of March and will participate in postseason events in April.

Cross country and competition cheer are traditional fall sports. On Jan. 5, it was announced at the Frederick County School Board meeting that Frederick County would be delaying all interscholastic competition until March 1 due to COVID-19 concerns. Frederick County set dates for March 1-27 for winter sports, March 29-April 24 for fall sports, and April 26-June 16 for spring sports, with only spring sports teams eligible for the VHSL postseason.

Cross country and competition cheer are being given the opportunity to compete in the VHSL fall season due to unique circumstances.

On Jan. 5, Frederick County announced that it would not hold an indoor track & field season and would instead extend the cross country and outdoor track seasons. No details were provided as to the length of the extension. The unveiling of schedules reveals that extension involves moving up the start of the season by four weeks from March 29 to March 1, which now makes competing in the VHSL fall season possible for cross country.

On. Nov. 24, the VHSL announced that cheerleaders would be counted as spectators as part of the organization’s 25-person spectator limit at events. On Jan. 5, Frederick County announced it would not allow spectators at indoor events. As a result, winter sideline cheerleaders cannot cheer at basketball games like they would in the past and would not have events to train for during the Frederick County winter season of March 1-27. By allowing the competition cheer team to compete in the VHSL fall season beginning on March 1 though, cheerleaders now have events to participate in starting at the beginning of March as opposed to the end of March.

“We were working on everything,” said Millbrook CSA Scott Mankins in regard to details involved in the schedule releases. “If there are ways to enhance the schedules, we’re going to try and enhance the schedules. Right now, that’s what we’ve been able to do. We wished we could have enhanced everybody’s season. We’re not able to do that.

“In using the date of March 1 [to start interscholastic competition], we have tried hard to maximize the playing opportunities as best we can for all of our teams. We did not want to cancel anyone’s season. The cancellation of indoor track and the cancellation of winter cheer isn’t the same as the cancellation of a sport that doesn’t have something similar with it. Kids who run indoor track run cross country or participate in [outdoor] track & field, or both, so we’re not taking opportunities away. The majority of those who compete in competition cheer have the opportunity to do sideline cheer, so we really didn’t take an opportunity away.”

The March 1 start date for interscholastic winter sports makes it impossible for Frederick County teams to compete in the VHSL winter postseason, because the state competitions for all those sports are scheduled to be completed by Feb. 20.

But Frederick County cross country and competition cheer teams will have a chance to participate in most of the VHSL fall season by starting on March 1. With the exception of football (first competition date, Feb. 22), no VHSL fall sport can hold a competition until March 1. Regional postseason events can’t take place until the window of April 5-17 (cross country regionals must be completed by April 17, and competition cheer regionals must be completed by April 10). For schools that are joining the VHSL fall season immediately, teams can start practicing as soon as Feb. 4 in football and competition cheerleading and Feb. 15 in cross country, volleyball and golf.

Mankins said cross country runners and competition cheer athletes at Millbrook are allowed to also compete for a winter sports team if they’re able to work it out with their coaches. Sherando CSA Jason Barbe and James Wood CSA Craig Woshner confirmed this is also the situation at their schools.

However, Mankins said one of the concerns raised based on conversations with athletes, parents and coaches throughout the entire school year were situations where athletes might have to choose between sports.

That played a role in not allowing football, volleyball and golf to join the VHSL fall season on March 1, because the feeling is more athletes in those sports might have to make choices on which sports to compete in compared to cross country and cheerleading. For some athletes, it might wind up being unrealistic to try and do two sports at once depending on the requirements to compete for those sports teams.

“If we would start [all] fall sports on March 1, we’d have to completely cancel the winter season,” Mankins said. “The number of crossover athletes we have who play football and basketball, we have a couple who play football and wrestle, those kids would have to choose. We wouldn’t be able to start March 1 with every sport and allow kids the opportunity to play multiple sports. We would be eliminating a season by starting fall sports on March 1.

“You can’t realistically have an athlete play football and another sport at the same time. And there’s a little bit [of crossover in volleyball and golf]. We haven’t ignored any possibility. We haven’t ignored any suggestion. But every time we look into a suggestion, every time we look into a potential scenario, it opens up another issue. Looking into every situation that creates another situation, we’re doing the best we can to provide opportunities.”

The three Frederick County cross country teams will compete in their first meets on March 3. The Class 4 Northwestern District meet will be held on April 3 at Millbrook’s Third Battle of Winchester course, and the Region 4C meet will take place on April 13 at Morven Park in Leesburg.

Each of the Frederick County competition cheer teams will open their seasons on March 13 at Fauquier. The district (March 31) and region (April 7) meets will also be held at Fauquier.

Offseason workouts are being counted toward the minimum VHSL practice requirements for each sport, which is why cross country and competition cheer can compete so soon after March 1. Cross country requires eight practices, while competition cheer requires 20 practices per individual.

Mankins said FCPS student workouts are currently based around what days those students are in school, and are sport-specific. Starting on Monday, for those teams that are starting competition on March 1, Woshner said “A” and B” day students can start doing combined workouts and practices. These workouts will not take place on a daily basis, but they will be as close as possible to full team workouts while using mitigation strategies. The three schools will use February for practice days and tryout days.

As of now, once the competitions begin, the cross country teams will be allowed spectators because the events are outdoors. Mankins said FCPS is following Gov. Ralph Northam’s state mandate of two spectators per participant for outdoor sports.

Also of note, Mankins and Barbe said the football and volleyball schedules released by the Frederick County schools on Tuesday could still change.

Currently, the football schedules extend beyond the April 24 end date that was originally cited. With three teams, Mankins said that was what needed to be done. The three schools are scheduled to play each other twice each from April 2 to April 27, with each game five days apart.

“With only three of us involved right now, it’s going to take six dates to play four games,” Mankins said. “Now are we still looking at other options to enhance the football schedule? Absolutely. We hope another option comes up. We hope several different options come up that allow us to enhance this opportunity.

“It’s the same thing with volleyball [where the three schools are currently scheduled to hold tri competitions on six different dates, with each school hosting two tri-competitions each], We hope other options present themselves. We’re looking for ways to enhance any schedule we possibly can.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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