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ArlingtonArlington school leaders ban track athletes from state tourney

Arlington school leaders ban track athletes from state tourney

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High-school track and field competitors from across the commonwealth’s largest jurisdictions will descend on Virginia Beach March 1 for the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 boys and girls indoor state-championship meets.

But Arlington athletes will not be among them.

County school leaders have denied permission for teams to make the trip, citing health concerns about the ongoing high level of COVID infection in that part of Virginia and other factors.

The qualifying athletes were notified of the decision Feb. 17.

With the state indoor meet being held indoors, Arlington assistant superintendent for teaching and learning Bridget Loft told the Sun Gazette participation in track events produces high respiratory particles in the air that increase the risk of transmission, and that is problematic.

“Staff determined that it would not be safe for our track athletes to participate,” Loft said.

School officials earlier had made a similar call, denying the Washington-Liberty High School girls gymnastics team from participating in the Virginia High School League state meet in Virginia Beach. That decision was later reversed under pressure from parents and athletes themselves, and competitors traveled downstate to compete this past weekend.

High-school swimmers and divers from Arlington also are being allowed to participate in state competition. It takes place this week in Stafford.

“We don’t understand the difference,” a parent of a state-qualifying track and field athlete told the Sun Gazette. “If the gymnastics team can go to states, why can’t the track and field athletes? It’s not fair to the athletes who have worked so hard and have one more meet left, and the biggest of all. It’s disappointing and heartbreaking for them.”

Loft said decisions by the school system will vary “according to the unique nature of each sport.”

“We are committed to transparency” in communicating the reasons for decisions to athletes, parents and coaches, she said.

Those angered by the decision on participation by the track athletes say the school system isn’t being consistent. The indoor facility for the state indoor meet is much more vast and spacious than the gym where the gymnastics state competition was held, they say.

Another parent suggested maybe there is some prejudice against the track and field program at local schools.

“We are absolutely at a loss,” he said. “I have no idea the basis for how decisions are being made, [the] lack of transparency and the inconsistency among neighboring school districts, with Arlington County sticking out as an anomaly. It’s absolutely crushing for kids. If a basketball or football team went to states, we would have a parade and the community would all come out.”

(Parents interviewed for this article asked to remain anonymous, given the sensitivity of the issue.)

Track and field athletes from Fairfax County Public Schools are slated to compete in the state meet. Arlington and Fairfax athletes recently participated together at the recent 6D Region meet, held (mostly outdoors) at Chantilly High School.

Late last year, Arlington Superintendent Francisco Durán announced that the county school system was prohibiting the winter sports season in its entirety. Durán – new to Arlington and perhaps not familiar with how the community’s decision-making processes really work – was forced within days to reverse that decision and allow winter sports, with the exception of wrestling.

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