Burley plans for safe return to play 

Maya Waid, Editor-in-Chief

Within the next few weeks, Harrisonburg High School will begin to return to some sense of “normal” following the bringing back of school sports. Athletic Director Brandon Burley understands that while this was not an easy decision, beginning to return to school activities is important for students. 

“As we begin to transition back to HHS, allowing our student-athletes to begin practices is a part of restarting on-site activities. We will closely monitor our teams and make adjustments as needed to ensure the safety of all involved. We will also be reviewing team-specific mitigation strategies with coaches, athletes and parents as another proactive measure,” Burley said.

While the plan of how teams will return to their sport is unconventional, Burley has worked closely with administration to ensure that athletes will continue to focus primarily on their academics. 

“The athletic department has made an intentional effort since school began to monitor academic achievement for those students who participate in VHSL athletics and activities. Grade checks are done weekly, and if we notice a student struggling, we will reach out to offer assistance,” Burley said. “Last winter, we implemented progress reports for those struggling academically, and this was quite successful.”

Due to the pandemic, Burley and administration have had to think through extra precautions to ensure the safety of all athletes when at HHS practicing and competing. This included adding a link to pre-screen athletes on the schools webpage. 

“Masks must be worn at all times by all participants. Teams are being assigned a door to enter and exit from. Student Athletes are required to pre-screen themselves by 2:00 pm each day, and a coach or trainer will conduct a temperature check prior to entering,” Burley said. “We have added approximately 10 more hand sanitizing machines throughout the athletic wing. Several have

been placed in the locker rooms and gyms. Custodial staff will also be present throughout practices frequently disinfecting high touch surfaces.”

Additionally, the high school has also taken steps to ensure that spectators will be able to view all games, even without being able to physically be in the building. 

“Based on the Executive Order from the governor, we are only allowed 25 spectators at an event. [The] discussion about how this will look is ongoing. Pixellot cameras are being installed on [February 8] in both the gym and stadium to be able to live stream games over the NFHS network,” Burley said. 

Unlike surrounding high schools, Harrisonburg did not participate in the winter sports season, meaning athletes who participate in basketball, indoor track, swim, wrestling and gymnastics missed out on their season completely. However, Burley is confident that HHS will continue to make decisions based upon what is best for the high school rather than what other schools choose to do.

“What other schools are doing had no impact on our decision. Being purposeful and cognizant of our mitigation strategies as well as our intent to transition back to HHS were the driving factors in our decision. Our coaches and students have done an excellent job making sure our mitigation strategies are being implemented,” Burley said. 

Although HHS teachers and administrators have begun to receive their COVID vaccinations, Burley still knows that coaches and support staff must continue to foll

ow mitigation strategies to allow for a successful season. 

“For us to have a successful season, everyone involved must do their part. In the building, we know our mitigation strategies work. Everyone must continue wearing their mask, washing their hands and making smart decisions when they are off campus,” Burley said. “If everyone does their part, we should be in good shape.”

In addition to COVID screenings prior to practices and games, Burley also was forced to make changes in logistics to ensure team safety at all times. 

“Teams who are able to dress prior to arriving at school are being asked to do so. We will also dress prior to departing for games. We are currently working on a transportation schedule. The biggest change will be [not being able to stop] for meals or eating on the bus,” Burley said.

In conjunction with safety protocols while traveling to and from games, athletic trainers will also be designated to specific teams to limit unnecessary contact. 

“Athletic trainers have been assigned teams and will only work with those teams. Siaura will work with competition cheer, volleyball and cross country. Jared will work with football and golf. There will be no water coolers provided [by the trainers]. We are asking for athletes to bring water with them. Additional water is available if someone forgets or runs out,” Burley said. 

In addition to the athletes, Burley is also excited about the return of sports at HHS and the upcoming seasons. 

“I am most excited to see our student athletes being able to participate in whatever activity they love, for them to have an opportunity to compete,” Burley said. “This could not have been done without the continued support and assistance of the coaches of each respective team, and Ms. Hensley, Mr. MacKail and Dr. Richards. [I am] extremely happy our school community has this opportunity. We are Blue Streaks and we are the best in the valley.”

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