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Fall sports spring into action

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March is the new fall. Or so it would appear at diocesan high schools.

Athletes participating in traditional fall sports such as football, volleyball and soccer recently began practicing for a monthlong season this spring — the result of creative scheduling efforts and patience, coaches said.

“It’s been an arduous task, but we’ve pulled it off,” said Billy Emerson, athletic director at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly. “It’s been a labor of love in some ways, but it’s very, very important.”


On a recent Friday afternoon, the athletic fields at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington were buzzing.

Half of the field was occupied by the combined varsity and junior varsity football squad, while the other half was taken up by girls field hockey players.

Practice looked, and sounded, a little different from years past.

The sanitizing wipes came out between drills, and instead of blowing into a traditional whistle, Coach Ken Lucas picked up an electronic whistle.

“That way I don’t have to take my mask off regularly, but it also reduces any type of pathogens that may be released through the whistle,” said Lucas, the school’s head varsity football coach. “(COVID) definitely has made us change the way we come out and work through our practice, but nonetheless it’s still a great opportunity and it’s good to be out here.”

The O’Connell football team is playing a five-game season, with three games against Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Saint John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores and Paul VI. 

Senior team captain Jack Perkins said he is just glad to be back on the football field.

“It’s crazy — I didn’t think this was ever going to end,” he said. “I’m really happy to just be back out here and playing with my brothers.”

Paris Patterson, a senior defensive end, echoed Perkins’ thoughts.

“This is a family. These are my brothers — I’d go to war for anybody out here,” he said. “I love these guys with all my heart.”

Though the team is still not able to have in-person meetings outside practice time, coach Lucas said they try to stay connected over Zoom.

“Whatever learning we have is going to get done out here on the field or in that Zoom meeting,” he said. “It’s been a challenging experience, but it’s given us an opportunity to … remain connected with our young men and hear about any challenges they may have had during the pandemic.”


Even though fall sports weren’t played officially in 2020, Paul VI held intramural-style games among teams last fall called “The Black and Gold Games.”

Each athletic team held scrimmages on a featured night. There were officials, bright lights, announcers — all to lend a sense of semi-normalcy, Emerson said.

Emerson sees a connection between athletics and student development, and pushed his coaches and training staff to find a way to make sports happen at Paul VI this year.

“We were very, very concerned about losing not only the opportunity and the small window of time” for student-athletes to be recruited by college teams, “but also just the overall development of the entire student,” he said.

“Everything we do with our sports program is an extension of the mission of the church and the mission of our school. Our kids are walking away with some foundational life skills and lessons that they’ll be able to apply in every facet of their life.

“Our sports programs are a tool, and if we’re missing that important tool to the overall process, our students are getting cheated.”

After fall sports conclude in mid-April, the diocesan high schools plan to hold spring sports to wrap up the school year.

Riedl can be reached at matthew.riedl@arlingtondiocese.org or on Twitter @RiedlMatt.



© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021