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Virtual Forum Seeks Path to Putting Student Athletes Back at Play

A panel of people from the V.I. sports community takes part in an online discussion about how to get the games going again. (Screenshot)

Student-athletes in the U.S. Virgin Islands, like their counterparts around the world, have mostly been kept off the field and out of the gym by the coronavirus pandemic. A virtual forum on Tuesday brought some of them together with coaches, officials, media and other figures from the territory’s sports community to brainstorm how to get them back into action.

The forum was hosted by Sen. Janelle K. Sarauw and convened of more than a dozen people for more than two hours online to consider how to resume sports safely.

Matthew Mays, a swimmer from the University of the Virgin Islands, and Charlotte Amalie High School volleyball and softball player Niyana Chesterfield opened the session by talking about how the pandemic has affected them.

Mays said he still hasn’t been able to participate in official practice, just lifting and conditioning. Chesterfield said, “There is nothing going on” in the territory, but she has been doing individual conditioning to stay in shape and ready for when sports return.

Leciar Richmond, executive secretary of the St. Croix Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the first hurdle to bringing back sports would be establishing a contact tracing system that would prevent the spread of the virus.

Sports chiropractor Brad Kappel and a member of the V.I. Montessori School, helped with the protocols to help reopen the school and hoped his expertise combined with that experience could help bring back sports in the territory. He said the school used protocols from the Department of Health as their guidelines to get going. He suggested that the IAA form similar guidelines that coaches could use to begin practicing again.

Richmond said IAA is creating a similar set of guidelines to follow. She reassured the audience that IAA is working behind the scenes but did not want to prematurely release the guidelines.

Adopting specific guidelines for individual sports as they would vary between activities. One participant suggested the forum include coaches for each sport to help draft these guidelines.

Similar to the governor’s orders for curtailing the pandemic, with different levels of restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, sports guidelines should find a way to roll out in phases, forum members said, including individual sessions with coaches, then smaller group practices, then full team practices, then games. This way kids could get back to playing sports and improve their skills gradually and guidelines could be established to do each step safely.

While contact sports are still a long way from playing games, physical therapist Dr. Jerry Smith, owner of Therapy Works, noted that some sports, such as track and field, archery, tennis, golf, and swimming, are naturally socially distant. These might be easier to restart, Smith said.

Members of the forum suggested this could be an opportunity to try something new. Athletes could try a sport they hadn’t tried before as a way for them to build different skills that would translate to their original sports. It also could lead to other opportunities if a student-athlete begins to enjoy one of these sports.

Mays and Allison Bourne-Vanneck, of the Virgin Island Golf Federation, suggested that a new sport could provide help with college and travel, as swimming and golf have done for them.

LaReina Robinson, of Livewire Sports, asked the group what they would tell 11th and 12th grade students who need game action and film to get into college for sports? She said students have reached out to her and many are depressed that their sports can’t continue this year.

James Gardner, of Mad Hot Media and a freelance contributor to the Source, said he has worked with Virgin Islands athletes who were able to display specific skills on video that have helped them gain opportunities in college. The group also discussed organizing training sessions that show off player athleticism. The sessions could be filmed, and the film sent to schools.

The common message from the panelists to the territory’s student-athletes was to find ways to get better individually on your own while the guidelines get worked out. Run on hills, do weight exercises and study hard, as academics are just as important as athletic abilities in getting into collegiate programs.

Sarauw pointed out that the Department of Education budget contains no money for sports.

Sen. Kurt Vialet, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, chimed in on the livestream’s comments saying, “We are going to fund athletics during the markup. Prepare your schedules and let’s do it!”

The full discussion can be viewed online at Sarauw’s Facebook.

The other panelists were Mark Daniel, former coordinator of Health and Physical Education; Renee Hansen, board of directors Elmo Plaskett Little League; Desiree Miranda, vice president of the St. Croix IAA; Steve Parris, district administrator of Virgin Islands Little League; and Robinson, Livewire Sports. Sarauw’s chief of staff, Simone Edwards-Williams, moderated the conversation.

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