Atlantic Shores vs. Portsmouth Christian 2020 (Photo: Lance Hinton/recruit757)
Atlantic Shores, Portsmouth Christian and St. Michael went against the grain
by Andy Hilton, recruit757
The high school football world held it’s breath in the summer of 2020, hoping that we would have a fall football season.
The VHSL decided to scrap sports and activities for the fall, choosing instead to start winter sports in December. Fall sports like football are scheduled for a February start while Spring sports are on for now, but all sports will be playing a limited schedule.
VISAA, the governing body for independent schools in Virginia, decided to let their member schools make their own decision. VISAA won’t sanction sports in 2020-2021.
Richmond private schools decided as a group not to participate.
Several of the private schools in the 757 opted out.
Most of the schools in Northern Virginia also decided to wait until the spring.
Three schools in our coverage area made the leap to play a football season: Atlantic Shores, Portsmouth Christian and St. Michael went against the grain and suited up for a fall season. Fork Union also played, along with several home school teams and private schools in neighboring states.
While they played an abbreviated schedule due to limited competition, Atlantic Shores, Portsmouth Christian and St. Michael were able to fit in a six-game schedule and take COVID precautions in the process. All three schools opted to have their students attend classes in person, which is something that most public schools didn’t do this fall.
“We played six games over ten weeks with a few rescheduled games and cancellations for various reasons, but I think it was a successful season. We got some good games in,” said Hugh Brown, the head football coach of the St. Michael Catholic Warriors in Fredericksburg. “We played Fork Union twice. We played a home school team. We played St. John Prep (MD), Portsmouth Christian, and we played Atlantic Shores in our last game.”
Coach Brown lamented that his team turned the ball over more times in that game than his team did all season.
“They’re a well-coached football team. We turned the ball over six times against them and you just can’t do that,” said the coach. “They’re a good team and they played a great game.”
Was it worth it to play football in the fall?
“100%, yes,” responded Brown. “We started working two or three weeks later than normal. When it was clear when VISAA wasn’t going to go, which I think was late July, our team said they were willing to play, so we started working. We didn’t play a game until mid-September. We’re Division III and we got to play a Division I team (Fork Union) twice. Normally, we wouldn’t schedule them, but it was a great experience. We might not normally schedule Atlantic Shores because they’re a two and we’re a three. Portsmouth Christian is the only Division III team we hadn’t played before. It was absolutely worth it. High school football gives young men purpose. We focus on the environment and the culture of our school and our team. If a young man is capable of playing football in college, we will move heaven and earth to make that happen.”
St. Michael saw two of their seniors from the VISAA Division III State Championship team of 2019 land college scholarships and they’re now with West Virginia State and Kentucky Christian.
Coach Brown is hopeful that his current crop of seniors will see a similar benefit from being able to play in helmets and pads this fall rather than having to wait until the spring.
At Atlantic Shores, head coach Wayne Lance had only two seniors on his 2020 squad, but he saw similar benefits from going ahead and playing in the fall rather than waiting.
“It was great having the opportunity to get a season in, particularly before cold and flu season. Some of the other school districts are forgoing the winter season now. We’re really fortunate that our conference decided to allow fall sports for all sports that play in the fall. We did cross-country, volleyball, soccer and football. It was great. I was excited just as a dad to see my daughter have her senior year of volleyball. My other one had her sophomore year of volleyball. That’s not something we’re taking for granted,” Lance stated.
Both Atlantic Shores and St. Michael made it through the fall with no significant illnesses in the football program, and the school has managed to keep their entire student body healthy.
The students were happy to have what is as close to a normal fall as could be expected.
“The kids had a blast. We do season-ending meetings in our program. A lot of the athletes commented how thankful they were to be able to play and they miss it now that the season is over,” Lance said. “We’re thankful other teams were willing to play as well. To have a season was great.”
There was even some humor about adjustments that had to be made in order to play the season. Social distancing and high sanitary standards were the order of the day.
Coach Lance laughed that his team had been social distancing since 2002. The Seahawks have run a no-huddle offense for almost two decades.
There are conversations in VISAA to hold a winter and spring sports season with potential playoffs. Those decisions could be made at meetings scheduled for next week.
Coach Lance confirmed that there is no plan to play another football season in the spring, even though most high schools at the public school level are scheduled to play then. VHSL rules prohibit athletes from playing two seasons of the same sport in one academic year, so there will be no transferring for athletes looking to play spring football after competing this fall.
“We have a lot of kids play two or three sports. We’ll start our off-season workouts like we normally do. Anything we do is subject change because of COVID. We’re waiting to see how that goes,” he said.
The news is all good for the teams who decided to buck the trend and play football this fall. We hold out hope that the 2021-2022 season will be a return to normal where all athletic programs across the state can play on-time in the season they’re meant to play.
– Andy Hilton
Portsmouth Christian head coach Josh Blalock was contacted for comment, but was unavailable due to vacation. – AH