Virtual sports challenge players, coaches

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Fields will be empty of any team sports for the first semester.

With the current safety issues surrounding COVID-19, a global reentry into sports after a long hiatus began with professional leagues. But without millions of dollars to funnel into projects like the NHL or NBA’s isolation bubbles, high schools must depend on creativity and resourcefulness to help students continue their athletics without a massive infrastructure project.

Athletic Virtual Engagement is an idea proposed by MCPS to help student athletes stay active without potentially spreading coronavirus. Superintendent Jack Smith’s July 21 letter announced the cancellation of fall and winter sports, but no alternative plan specifically addressing athletics was included. On July 30, another MCPS letter was released, which said that first-semester athletics would be replaced by virtual-only programs. In a question and answer format on the school’s athletics website, Athletics Director Alton Lightsey said, “Virtual engagement will include system-wide resources, school-wide activities, sport-specific engagement and team-specific opportunities. Examples include guest speakers, conditioning workouts, character development, chalk talks, film study, social-emotional support, and other engaging activities.”

We’re also planning to have spirit weeks, fun running activities and follow-along workout videos.”

— Abbey Damonte

Virtual sports allow for a range of student athletes to have a season that they otherwise would have missed out on. Senior cross-country captain Abbey Damonte plans to make use of available options for her team. “As of right now we’re planning on holding three virtual meetings per week to discuss the workouts our coach will assign and other cross-country related topics such as nutrition,” Damonte said. “We’re also planning to have spirit weeks, fun running activities and follow-along workout videos.”

Student athletes had begun to train on their own, while awaiting the start of the official virtual fall sports season, planned to run from Sept. 14 through Oct. 16. Damonte teammate junior Jay Bhanot has already begun his own cross-country workouts. “So far I’ve just been doing my own runs and cross training for cross country,” Bhanot said. “In a week or two, we are getting training plans to do on our own.”

Winter sports will run virtually from Oct. 26 through Dec. 4, and spring sports will take place online from Dec. 14 through Jan. 22. The fall sports season registration closed on Sept. 9, and other seasons’ registration windows have not opened. The distinction between varsity and JV players has also changed. “Since there are no varsity letters given this fall, and everyone is allowed to participate, coaches will decide how to run the team practices,” Lightsey said.

While there may be a less-than-concrete definition for what virtual sports seasons will truly entail, the array of options available has given freedom to coaches and players to experiment with remote training, virtual assignments and communication systems. Virtual sports will force coaches to reevaluate what is possible and look at what makes a team from a new angle.