High school volleyball players protest for right to play

Published: Nov. 11, 2020 at 6:44 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Players, coaches and parents from three rival Putnam County high school volleyball teams came together on Wednesday to fight for equal treatment under the state’s COVID-19 guidelines.

Putnam County was in orange on last Saturday’s color code map, meaning players from Hurricane, Winfield and Buffalo High Schools were not eligible to practice or play games this week.

With the state tournaments set to begin, that meant the end of the season for the school’s girls volleyball teams. However, the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission (WVSSAC) moved games and changed its schedule to allow boys football teams the chance to play next Sunday if their color changes on Saturday night’s updated map.

“Football teams have the opportunity to get to wait for the next map and get to play on Sunday, but they’re not giving any type of concessions to these girls like that,” Hurricane volleyball parent Chris Dickerson said. “They fought hard in sectionals and regionals last week, and earned the right to play at the Coliseum this weekend. Now, the governor is telling all of them that it doesn’t matter.”

The teams filed a lawsuit earlier this week hoping a judge would step in and grant them the right to play by delaying the tournament. Kanawha County Circuit Judge Carrie Webster denied that request.

“I cried when we heard the ruling,” Hurricane player Jaymee Bishop said. “Everyone cried. It’s just really disappointing because we worked so hard to get here and this is only the second time in school history Hurricane has ever gone to states.”

About 100 volleyball players brought their concerns to Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday morning before his regular COVID-19 news conference, hoping he would change the rules after stating he was going to look into the issue on Monday. The players chanted “let us play” and “let us test,” but Justice responded that they were not going to like his answer.

“I want everyone to understand just this,” Justice said. “Everybody, the WVSSAC, the education people, the medical community. Everybody I had weigh in on this, and everybody in unison said we’ve got to stay with our map. We’ve got to stay with where we are at.”

Justice explained that different sports have different schedules, and football skips the sectionals and regionals rounds to enter straight into the state playoffs. This allows the games to be changed around based on COVID cases, as games were moved during the sectional and regional rounds of the volleyball tournament.

“You know, this is a dilemma beyond belief,” Justice said. “You have the dilemma of we were going to put sports in front of school, it’s ridiculous, you can’t do that. We’ve got these kids that are not in school right now. I mean, if they are not in school, how in the world do we make it right for them to play sports?”

Justice said he has to make tough decisions to keep people safe with COVID cases and deaths increasing across the state. He told the players that the girls basketball team he coaches was hurt last spring when the beginning of the pandemic canceled the state basketball tournament, and he understands how important sports are to communities.

“I know our sports are really important, but they’ve got to take a back seat to this situation that we are in,” Justice said comparing the pandemic to the deadly 2006 Sago Mine disaster. “We’ve got to all realize that we are in a pandemic and it is killing people.”

The players said they just want a fair chance to get the same treatment Putnam County football teams are getting, with the county moving from orange to gold on Wednesday’s DHHR color code map. Bishop said she would get tested eight times in one day to prove she is negative and decrease the percent positive statistic.

“We even got two weeks taken away from us during the season,” Winfield player Mya Williams said. “We couldn’t play a lot of the schools that we usually play during the regular season because of their color at the time. So, our season was already messed up, and I want it to end the right way.”

“The football team got that opportunity, so I think it’s only fair the volleyball team gets the same opportunity,” Williams continued.

Protesters said coming to the Capitol on Wednesday was a last resort to save their seasons, and allow seniors to end their careers on their own terms.

“I have been playing since I was in third grade and I have always had it as a goal to make it to the state tournament,” Buffalo player Janessa Harris said. “I will never have this chance to be on the court and put on my knee pads again. And for them to just take it away from us, it’s heartbreaking because I love this game so much and it has given me so many opportunities.”

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