While sporting events within the U.S. Virgin Islands’ schools — both public and private — are on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, that doesn’t mean the athletic programs are at a complete standstill.
In fact, efforts are underway to get some semblance of an interscholastic athletic season going in the territory, once a green light is received from Health and Education officials.
The subject came up during Wednesday night’s meeting of the St. Thomas-St. John Interscholastic Athletic Association (STTJIAA), held via teleconference among representatives of its member schools.
According to Lecia Richmond, the STTJIAA’s executive secretary, plans have been drawn up for a “soft opening” of three new sports — archery, golf and tennis — at the elementary and junior high school levels, as well as baseball, cross country, softball and track and field at those levels and in the high schools.
The archery, golf and tennis programs at the elementary and junior high levels will be treated as “instructional programs,” with no real interscholastic competition, Richmond said.
“We’re working on those right now, so we can get those out to you,” Richmond said during the teleconference.
Under the proposal — which also involved feedback from the V.I. Education Department and the leadership of the St. Croix Interscholastic Athletic Association — most team sports such as football, basketball, soccer and volleyball will likely not be held until the worldwide pandemic has been lifted.
The impetus came from an online forum last month hosted by Sen. Janelle Sarauw, in which Richmond and a representative from the STCIAA participated.
“We talked about how important it was to get our student-athletes moving forward to college, which is really, really important,” Richmond said. “There were many different people there who said, ‘we can do this, we can do that,’ so we all put in some ideas.
“At the end, Sen. Sarauw’s staff pulled together all the ideas and what the next steps were. … They asked us if we could come up with a proposed budget to get sports started in the fall, a COVID kind of takeoff.”
According to Richmond, she had been recently informed by Sarauw that the proposed budgets for both St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix have been fully funded by the V.I. Legislature.
In addition, earlier in the meeting, Richmond said that both the STTJIAA and STCIAA had each received $15,625 from the Education Department, which will be used to cover the organization’s liability insurance and other costs.
Some of the funding from the Legislature will be used to provide each school — both public and private — with scheduling software that also has a “COVID tracking” feature, Richmond said.
That software will be able to integrate with most software currently in use by the Education Department and the private schools.
“One of the things from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] is being able to track who’s at the practices, who’s at the games, who are they in contact with — everything,” Richmond said. “This is going to allow us to purchase for all schools this program.”
The Education Department has also issued guidelines — based on information from the CDC and V.I. Health Department — for what it would take to resume even a limited athletics schedule, according to Richmond.
However, she told the STTJIAA’s membership that they will also follow guidelines that have been established by the Illinois High School Association.
“They have a really, really great COVID site,” Richmond said. “We are going to be implementing these Illinois guidelines because they meet all of the CDC’s guidelines, and it’s something that we can easily do here. Everybody will be clear and concise on what has to happen for the sport that you’re in can compete and practice at all different levels.”
In other business:
• Therese Hodge, formerly the STTJIAA’s vice president, has assumed the president’s title in the organization after the departure of former president Shane DeGannes.
DeGannes, who was also the athletics director at Virgin Islands Montessori School, left the school in August after his wife was hired by the Baltimore (Md.) City Public Schools.
• Mark Daniel, Antilles School’s athletics director and and STTJIAA’s treasurer, said that a partnership had been formed with the St. Croix IAA, which recently renewed its membership with the National Federation of High School Associations.
That will allow interscholastic sports on both islands to operate from the same rule book, an issue that has arisen over the past several years.
“We’ve been working together to try to get our programs on the same page,” Daniel said. “It just didn’t seem fair to the children.”
• The St. Thomas-St. John IAA is also proposing a switch to a four-division setup for all of its sports programs — elementary, middle school, junior varsity and varsity — to better match up with the St. Croix IAA. In the past, the STTJIAA had used elementary, junior varsity and varsity divisions.
Under the new divisions, elementary will be for first- through sixth-grade students, middle school for sixth- through eighth-grade students, and junior varsity and high school for ninth- through 12th-grade students.
“In our present structure, you could have a sixth-grade child playing basketball against a ninth- or 10th-grade child,” Daniel said. “We wanted to get away from that so that we could have our athletes playing on a level playing field, and open opportunities for more participation.”
• The St. Thomas-St. John IAA membership will meet again on Thursday, Oct. 8, at 6 p.m. to vote on proposed changes to the organization’s constitution and other matters. The meeting will be held by teleconference.