Harrisonburg City Schools suspends winter sports

The+varsity+boys+basketball+team+capped+off+their+2019+regular+season+by+winning+the+district+championship+over+the+Broadway+Gobblers.+

Maya Waid

The varsity boys basketball team capped off their 2019 regular season by winning the district championship over the Broadway Gobblers.

On Nov. 24, Harrisonburg City Public Schools (HCPS) made the decision to withdraw from Season 1 (winter sports) of Virginia High School League (VHSL) activities according to recommendations from the Virginia Department of Health. HHS principal Melissa Hensley sent out the following email to faculty and staff members regarding the decision. 

In partnership with HCPS officials and based upon the recommendations of the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), Harrisonburg High School has made the challenging decision to withdraw from athletic participation in Season 1 of the Virginia High School League (VHSL) activities.  We understand this decision is likely disappointing for our athletes, families, and coaches and we will miss seeing your compete.  The focus remains on ensuring the health and well-being of student-athletes, families, and the community.  Please know a great deal of dialogue has gone into making this decision, including the recent recommendation from the VDH strongly advising all school divisions to consider canceling the upcoming sports season.  

The following sports seasons have been canceled for HHS; Basketball, Gymnastics, Indoor Track, Swim and Dive, and Wrestling. Those activities held virtually will continue and include Debate, Forensics, Scholastic Bowl, and Theatre.Off-season workouts will continue under current mitigation strategies. A decision has not been made regarding season two and three. HHS and HCPS will continue to evaluate participation for future seasons with a decision to be made at a later time.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to Mr. Burley or me. 

The sudden cancellation of winter sports season brings an immediate end for senior athletes who do not have plans to compete in college athletics. Even those with hopes to continue their athletic careers, the lack of a season makes the recruiting process difficult. Among the senior athletes affected by the lack of their season is senior swimmer Mia Constantin, who has aspirations to continue her swimming career at Swarthmore College or the California Institute of Technology

“I’ll be honest, I was kind of devastated. High school swimming is the reason I am pursuing swimming at a high level. During my freshman year, I was about to quit swimming for another sport, but the HHS swim and dive team culture is very infectious and quite frankly, amazing. On the team there’s absolutely no drama;[it’s] just fun, which is how I like it,” Constantin said. “I also performed better during my high school season versus in my club season because I have the team as a motivator, and I was hoping to get some good times this year to show to my college coaches.”

In addition, senior wrestler Anttwone Washington was disappointed, but not devastated by the news of not having a season. 

“When I heard about wrestling being canceled I was okay. My club coach and I had [come up with] an alternative plan because we thought the season was going to get canceled,” Washington said. “I might not get my state ring, but in the end, I’ll still get to wrestle and to me, that is all that matters.” 

Senior basketball player Jazen Walker, will also heavily rely on the exposure that he gains from playing basketball outside of school to hopefully get recruited and continue to play in college. 

“Honestly, it hurt me deep down. The guys and I have been working hard this off-season, and we were planning on going on a run to states this year. [The pandemic] is getting in the way of the recruiting process because college coaches are not able to attend high school games anymore because of [COVID-19],” Walker said. “My plan is to keep playing AAU to hopefully get the attention from the college coaches that I am missing my chance to be exposed to because we do not have a season.” 

Additionally, junior Laura Gonzalez was disappointed yet not surprised when she got word that she would not have an indoor track season. Gonzalez, one of the runners of the 4×400 meter relay team, was saddened to think of the loss of one of her fellow 4×4 teammates but understands the need for this decision. 

“[Hearing the news] made me really sad because I’ve really missed track. This season, we were hoping to qualify for states with the 4×4 team, and Ashley is a senior so it really sucks because when she’s gone it’ll be hard to find a team fast enough to compete at a high level. I did kind of expect this, though. Even if we had a season, there was no way we are going to be able to compete indoors, and running at Liberty was definitely the highlight of the season. It is definitely not good news, but we have to do what we have to do, I guess,” Gonzalez said. “I want to run, but I also want the pandemic to end as soon as possible. and it won’t end unless we sacrifice some things now. I’m really hoping this will keep cases down and later on we can have sports in the spring.” 

Unlike Constantin, senior swimmer Nathan Brown does not have the opportunity to continue to showcase his abilities in the club season. With the cancellation of the season, Brown will not be able to finish off his senior season after three varsity seasons with Harrisonburg. 

“When I heard the season was canceled, I was definitely disappointed. All of us seniors have been working really hard for the last four years trying to work up to a great senior season, and now we don’t get one. Personally, I don’t plan on swimming competitively after high school, so the cancellation doesn’t really affect my long-term plans, but it’s still sad. It’s crazy to think that I swam my last high school race last year with no idea that it was my last one. At the end of the day, I know that it was probably the right decision to cancel the season, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing,” Brown said. 

After spending the past three years with the girls basketball program, senior Esther Manson’s high school career has come to an end after hearing of the cancellation. As one of the few seniors returning to the team this year, Manson was overwhelmed with emotions upon hearing the news of the cancellation. 

“‘[This] season, I wanted to give it my all one last time since it is my senior year. It hurt me when I heard we won’t be able to play this [year]. I wanted the chance to show how much I have progressed over the years and make the people who have supported me and watched me feel both proud and happy,” Manson said. 

Not only are the athletes greatly affected by the decision, but coaches are also saddened to hear that they will not get a chance to compete this winter. The most recent addition to the HHS coaches is head girls varsity basketball coach Tracy Harding. In what would have been her first season with the team, Harding was discouraged yet understanding of the decision. 

“I was disappointed with the news that our season was cancelled. I’m sad from the senior athletes in all winter sports. I understand the decisions being made are for everyone’s best interest. We must all pull together and encourage one another during this difficult time. I look forward to continuing to work with the girls in our program,” Harding said.

As one of the key voices in the decision making process, Harrisonburg Athletic Director Brandon Burley indicated data from local health experts was not trending in the right direction to allow play to go forward. 

“A great deal of dialogue went into making this decision including the recent recommendation from the Central Shenandoah Health District (CSHD) strongly advising all school divisions to consider cancelling the upcoming sports season.  The surge in COVID numbers, combined with the recommendation from the CSHD make it extremely unlikely HHS will participate in the winter sports season.  Our focus remains on ensuring the health and well-being of student-athletes, families, and community,” Burley said. 

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