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Black and Gold Games provide safe sports

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When the coronavirus pandemic started last March, all sports practices and games suddenly were canceled or postponed indefinitely. Spring seasons ended without warning. Schools and teams have struggled to figure out how to navigate athletics since. 

At St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly, the athletics staff, coaches, teachers and administration worked to help Paul VI student-athletes stay active and participate in sports safely amid the pandemic.

"It was like trying to put together a million-piece jigsaw puzzle every day we walked into the office," said Ken Kuberski, assistant athletic director and athletic trainer.

Since summer, the school has put in places protocols for students and coaches including mask wearing, a COVID-19 screening process at practices and games, hand sanitizer breaks, frequent equipment sanitization and social distancing, according to Billy Emerson, director of athletics. The school updates the protocols as necessary based on the latest research.

In the fall, teams started practicing and conditioning, but the question of competition lingered. Many other schools could not play sports against other schools or at all. So the school’s athletics staff came up with an idea that would set a precedent for other schools: the Black and Gold Games. 

In these games held over three weeks last fall, Paul VI students in different sports played against each other, splitting into two teams with gold or black jerseys. The games included boys and girls soccer, girls tennis, field hockey, cross-country, volleyball and football, as well as dance and cheer, who performed.

Coaches did not make any cuts for the teams in the Black and Gold Games so everyone had a chance to participate. The coaches and athletic staff, especially Billy Emerson, head coach of boys varsity baseball, voiced the importance of school sports being open to everyone so the school could oversee them and make sure they were COVID-safe. Additionally, school wanted to make sure that student-athletes in the Options program played sports as well, despite Special Olympics being on hold.

"This wouldn’t have been possible" without the help of coaches, the administration and many volunteers, said Linda Zanelotti, assistant to the athletic director.

"Everyone really overcame and adapted," said Kuberski. "We are very proud of everyone, especially the students."

"Athletics might be the face of it, but it’s really the whole community," Emerson said.

The pioneering efforts of Emerson, Kuberski and the athletics staff became a blueprint for all activities including student life and interscholastic sports. The student government planned a winter event last month that allowed 250 students to enjoy a variety of outdoor games.

"We’ve worked twice as hard to only be able to do about half of what we can normally do with sports," said Emerson. "But it’s totally worth it because of the benefit to the mental and emotional health of our student-athletes. We have been able to keep doors of opportunity open for our students who will go on to play in college, and keep doors of opportunity for growth through participation in athletics open for everyone. And that has been a huge victory." 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021