Area high school football teams will stick mostly to playing district opponents if the shortened season gets under way in February, but they do have some flexibility to line up outside games.
That allows one of the of the area’s traditional nondistrict rivalry games — L.C. Bird vs. Thomas Dale — to continue. That game is scheduled for March 12, Dale activities director Ricky Talman said.
For some of the area powers that are exploring marquee nondistrict matchups, there’s a dilemma: With a six-game season and only four teams qualifying for the region playoffs, will a district-only schedule be strong enough to earn enough points to get you in the playoffs, or do you risk trying to get a high-quality opponent that might knock you out?
“You’ve got to be very strategic in the process,” said Highland Springs football coach Loren Johnson, whose teams have won four state championships in the past five seasons.
How districts go about football scheduling has been an interesting component of the Virginia High School League’s decision to shift, and shorten, the three sports seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teams are limited to 60% of their normal schedules, and in football only four teams will make the playoffs in each region.
With a push to stay closer to home because of COVID-19 and lower expenses, activities directors in the area’s four major districts — Capital, Central, Colonial and Dominion — are filling the reduced football schedules with district opponents, with the option of dropping games and scheduling outside foes if the schools involved agree.
“What everyone wanted to do at the beginning was make sure that everyone had games,” Hermitage activities director Chris Rollison said. “The easiest way to do that was play a district schedule.”
Each of the four districts has at least eight teams, so some teams in each district won’t play. Determining matchups varies by district.
In the Capital District, Highland Springs and Varina will play their annual blowout in the second game of the season instead of their usual spot in the regular-season finale. The schools didn’t want to schedule it for the final week and then not be able to play because of a postponement, Varina activities director Kevin G. Adams said.
Highland Springs usually plays a schedule with top teams from out of town. But this season has eliminated games with Martinsburg, W.Va., whose 57-game winning streak recently ended; Oscar Smith (Chesapeake); North Stafford, Colonial Forge (Stafford); and Page (North Carolina).
In a normal year, the top eight teams qualify for the playoffs based on the VHSL rating scale (points basically are awarded for wins and losses against teams according to their classifications, plus bonus points). With only four teams and fewer games, plus no promise of a big gate for playing a high-caliber nondistrict team (the VHSL is hoping 1,000 people will be allowed at games), there won’t be much room for error.
“Someone might be 5-1 and outpoint a 6-0 team,” Manchester football coach Tom Hall said.
Bird (Dominion District) and Dale (Central) have been an area staple, so continuing that game was a priority for both schools. They have played at least once a season since 1980.
“For the Chester community, it’s huge,” Talman said. “There are people who come to that game who graduated from L.C. Bird and Thomas Dale [in the ’80s] or are even older than that. I think the biggest thing for me was making sure we were able to provide that for our community, with the craziness of the year, some normalcy and something to look forward to.”
Boys and girls basketball, which are part of the first season to start (games beginning on Dec. 21), are playing 14 games. Districts are following a similar district-first format, with each team playing at least one district opponent. Some may play twice, but they have the option to schedule nondistrict games if schools agree.
Capital District: Adams said the priority was to make sure the Henrico County schools (Henrico, Highland Springs and Varina) play, and the Hanover County schools (Atlee, Hanover, Patrick Henry and the former Lee-Davis) play. From the remainder including Armstrong, schools drew to see which team they didn’t play.
Central District: Talman said ADs are going with the first six district games that were on this year’s football schedules.
Not every school in the district has field hockey or boys and girls lacrosse teams, so Talman said they are going to have to get scheduling help from other districts.
Colonial District: With eight schools in football, Rollison said a draw determined the six district opponents.
Dominion District: Cosby AD Mickey Swartz said the district also is using the first six district games that were on this year’s football schedules.