Kevin Dowdy and his players on St. Croix Central High School’s tackle football team have been putting in the work over the summer to prepare for the 2020 season.
Yet the Caribs’ efforts — as well as those of the USVI’s other high school teams — are now on hold after the Virgin Islands Education Department postponed the upcoming season due to the territory’s efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision — which came not long after the Education Department announced that schools would not reopen until Sept. 8, after Labor Day — also affects all of the fall sports among the territory’s public schools, even those are conducted by the Interscholastic Athletic Associations in both the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix districts.
Kirby Callandar, the Education Department’s director of sports and athletics, confirmed in a telephone interview Monday that the high school tackle football season and other fall sporting events had been postponed.
“Well, with the COVID-19 situation, in our guide to reopen the schools, there will be no large gatherings like athletic events,” Callandar said. “It’s based heavily on recommendations by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention].
“We can’t have large gatherings … so we had no choice but to postpone tackle football and any other interscholastic athletic events until there’s some kind of easing of the restrictions.”
Callandar said that some thought had been given to moving the tackle football season to either the winter or spring windows, but that would create another problem.
“Many of the athletes play multiple sports,” he said. “You see many of the football players also playing basketball. We don’t want to just get in a football season to the detriment of other sports.”
That’s small consolation to Dowdy, Central High’s head coach, which had become a challenger to St. Thomas’ teams — Charlotte Amalie High School (2017) and Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (2018-2019), the territorial league’s title winners the past three seasons.
“Everybody’s disappointed,” Dowdy said. “In the same token, we can’t beat the pandemic with the virus so rampant out there, and trying to maintain social distancing. I agree with them on that.
“But to think about cancelling the whole season — that’s not going to be fair to the players, especially the seniors. Those kids who have been with us for four years, and we had so much planned for this season. Most of the college programs, they’re looking for footage on our players from this season, and there’s not going to be any.”
The decision also affects several other fall sports in the public schools — for example, volleyball, cross country and flag football at the high school, middle school and elementary levels on both islands; and elementary netball on St. Croix.
That, in turn, also affects interscholastic sports at the territory’s private and parochial schools, which also make up part of the membership of the Interscholastic Athletic Associations.
Some of the private schools are reopening in the next several weeks. For example, St. Thomas’ Antilles School will open Aug. 10, and Virgin Islands Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy opens Aug. 17; while St. Croix’s Free Will Baptist Christian School opens Aug. 24 and Good Hope Country Day School opens Sept. 8.
“At this moment, we’re in the process of finding out what sports we’re going to try to hold this year,” said Lucille Hobson, president of the St. Croix Intescholastic Athletic Association.
“We represent the private and parochial schools as well. Even if the public schools don’t participate and we have enough teams among the private and parochial schools interested in our proposal, then we’ll move forward — but we will take COVID-19 into account.”
Callandar said that “no decisions” had been reached yet on athletics for the rest of the school year, and that meetings with the executive leadership of both districts’ Interscholastic Athletic Associations would be made before the start of the school year.
“It’s a fluid situation, basically,” Callandar said. “We’re going to be making decisions on the current situation. So basketball, we don’t have to postpone it or cancel it yet, but when that time comes, if we feel in the situation it’s going to be the same, we’ll cancel it and move on.
“Honestly speaking, we have to look at the possibility of not having any interscholastic sports for this school year. But it’s not like we’re making that decision right now. If the CDC comes along and says, ‘OK, we can have large gatherings without any adverse affects,’ then we will be ready to jump into what’s next.
“It’s a fluid situation. We’re just hoping for the best, and we’re hoping that we can get something out of this school year.”