ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – Starting Wednesday, some student-athletes in Roanoke County will head back to practice for the first time this school year and will soon be allowed to compete against other county schools.
Varsity sports will resume in limited capacity following a decision by the school board Tuesday. The board voted 4-1 during a school board work session. Board member Tim Greenway participated virtually as he quarantined at home positive with COVID-19, the second board member to contract the virus following Mike Wray’s bought with COVID-19 last month.
About three dozen students and parents rallied outside the meeting Tuesday afternoon with a rally cry of “let us play.” It’s one being shared all across the country and in Roanoke County too, as the #LetThemPlay movement has been gaining steam across the country and even at other area divisions.
Glenvar High School senior Claire Lucas said cheerleading is critical to her life and she wants to get back to it.
“At some point, you just have to get back to normal life and realize that it’s here and you can’t get rid of it overnight. So I think we should just get back to normal and have our senior season,” Lucas said. “Being able to go to school and then go have sports right after is definitely something that I’ve grown up needing. Just because it gives everyone a sense of family and support and safety and not being able to do that has taken a toll on my life and others’ as well.”
The board recognized that sports are important to a lot of families, like Claire’s, and are trying to make the best with what they’ve got.
The decision to resume athletics goes against health department guidance. Dr. Cynthia Morrow of the Roanoke Alleghany Health District maintains that resuming athletics beyond what’s currently approved is not the best practice.
“We should really be emphasizing getting children back into the classrooms as safely and effectively as possible rather than expanding extracurricular activities,” Dr. Morrow said.
The board recognized their decision flies in the face of that guidance, but school board chair Don Butzer said they are in a position to make decisions, and that involves taking risks.
“But given I think (what) we know about the virus, what we’ve learned about it and also the mental health aspects of this, I think it will do more good than harm. I could be wrong but I’m willing to live with the decision,” Butzer said.
Butzer added they’ll be ready to pull the plug if needed. But for parents like Stephanie Butler, she’s thankful for the chance.
“I’m a person that, I know there’s a virus out there, we take it seriously, and I feel like we can still have a balance of letting the kids live a little bit of their life while also playing sports,” Butler said.
Games will happen with no spectators. Roanoke County is the latest division to deviate from the initial plan, despite not meeting the COVID-19 benchmarks set by health officials for resuming athletics.