Va. high school community stages ‘Let them Play’ rally at state capitol

Virginia community stages ‘Let them Play’ rally at state capitol originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Parents, coaches and student athletes of northern Virginia high schools met in Richmond at the state capitol Monday as a part of the “Let them Play” campaign — an initiative designed to pressure state officials into hastening a high school sports return to play.

The Virginia branch of “Let them Play” consists of prominent community leaders such as Stone Bridge head coach Mickey Thompson, Dan Bruton of Briar Woods and Paul Troth of Champe. The leader of the rally, though, was Leesburg resident Holly Wiles. Wiles, the mother of Stone Bridge quarterback and Tulane commit Billy Wiles, believes it’s time student athletes leave the sidelines and return to the field.

“We firmly believe kids should be playing sports,” Wiles said. “We believe the benefits far outweigh the risks. It does not make sense to not allow them the opportunity to play sports.”

Seventeen states, including Virginia and Maryland, and the District of Columbia initially pushed their high school fall sports seasons to 2021 amidst the novel coronavirus pandemic. As of late, though, momentum has been building for states that previously postponed to return to play.

Last week, the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) reversed course on its previous decision, voting to allow high school sports to return in mid-October pending approval by the board of education. In the last month, massive rallies were held in Connecticut and Michigan calling for a return to play in high school sports — prompting Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan High School Athletics Association (MHSAA) to alter their stances and allow fall sports to commence, effective immediately.

Wiles and the Virginia “Let them Play” movement are hoping for similar results.

“I had just finished reading the article on Michigan doing a rally and the governor changing her decision and I said to my son and husband that we should start a rally in Virginia,” Wiles said. “And then I just started reaching out to people and getting their feedback. I reached out to all the influential people I had in my phone contacts and they were all supportive. Everyone wants to help.

“The voice of a few has been so loud. People are ready for the voice of the majority to be heard.”

Wiles and others helped to orchestrate a significant social media push that spanned the state of Virginia, and they even sparked talk amongst Maryland residents to organize their own rally.  The push inspired countless retweets and garnered over 4,000 signatures on an online petition calling for a return to play. However, only approximately 50 community members showed up at the capital for the rally — a majority of which were student athletes from Stone Bridge and Broad Run. Wiles attributes the relatively small turnout to fear of retribution as opposed to fear of the virus.

“The word on the street is people are afraid to lose their jobs, which I think is absolutely appalling,” Wiles said. “Kids are more likely to get hurt from a sports related injury than they are to be injured from COVID. There is risk involved in anything you do in life. Every time your teen drives a car, they are more in danger of getting hurt than they are playing a sport during the pandemic.”

In response to the rally, the VHSL released the following response which read in part:

“We fully understand and support the passion of high school sports from our school communities, parents, and students. From day one, we have been committed to getting our students participating in activities safely and responsibly. There has been a tremendous amount of input and cooperation from principals, superintendents, activity directors, coaches, and members of various communities.

“The VHSL and its member schools have worked tirelessly over the past several months to create a plan for our students to participate in VHSL sponsored athletics and activities. Our Executive Committee will meet this Thursday to approve and adopt our Championships + 1 schedule for the FY 2021 Athletic and Academic Activities season. This schedule provides every VHSL sponsored activity a season during the FY2021 year.

“VHSL staff and Executive Committee will continue to work in cooperation the VHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) to develop a list of recommended guidelines for school divisions as they prepare for the safe reopening of high school sports and activities.”

Despite the efforts of Wiles and others associated with the Virginia “Let them Play” movement, it appears the VHSL is steadfast in its decision to “let them play”… in 2021.

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