Tackle football will be played this fall by DMV student athletes. Those who choose to do so, however, will not be playing for their local high schools, they’ll be strapping up with the VA Spartans.
The Spartans are a club team based out of Nokesville, Va., consisting of student athletes from schools throughout Northern Virginia, such as West Springfield, Lake Braddock, Stone Bridge, Flint Hill and Bishop O’Connell, among others. One student athlete, formerly of National Christian, travels from Maryland as well. The coaching staff is equally diverse; Spartans founder, Chris Lancaster, coaches at Battlefield, while head coach Jesse Jackson and associate head coach Obie Woods are from Patriot.
One of the unfortunate consequences in the postponement of fall sports due to the coronavirus pandemic is the adverse effect it’s had on student athletes’ opportunities for exposure. Coach Woods said that is why the VA Spartans were formed.
“We created the VA Spartans football club mainly for juniors and seniors to get some film for colleges,” Woods said. “We had several young men approach us who, when school systems and football was being shutdown, who said, ‘Coach, I have colleges out there that are reaching out and saying I need five games of senior film and I may get the chance to go to college for free.’ And we looked at that and said, ‘Hey, how can we help these young men.’ And that’s how this came about.”
Tryouts were held in August, but no one was cut from the team as the goal of the Spartans is to provide exposure opportunities for as many student athletes as possible. The coaching staff has plans to film games and inter-squad scrimmages, which players can then extract their individual highlights and load to both Hudl and the Spartans’ internal portal to be viewed by college coaches. Westfield senior ATH Alex Richards views playing with the Spartans as a contingency in the event high school sports don’t return in 2021 as planned.
“Since the season got pushed back to the spring, there’s still a chance that won’t happen [we won’t play],” Richards said. “So, I want to get some senior film up so that the schools who want more film from me can see how I’ve grown since my junior year and give myself the best chance.”
At this point, the Spartans are scheduled to play a five-game season, matching up against private schools from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, Dallas and Arkansas, but given the fluid nature of both the virus and individual state and local mandates, the schedule is subject to change. For the time being, the Spartans have contracted a venue in West Virginia to play their home games, unless and until Virginia moves to phase-4 of its reopening plan, which would allow for tackle football in the region.
Of course, playing football anywhere during a pandemic is a challenge in and of itself. The Spartans, though, believe they are taking the necessary steps to keep their student athletes and coaches safe and the transmission of the virus to a minimal.
“We have daily cover checks with the players. Our student athletes do a prescreen before they show up to practice. Once they arrive, we take your temperature. Our athletic trainer on staff monitors all that information and data and keeps track of that,” Woods said.
“All of our parents and players signed a COVID waiver with rules and responsibilities of what’s required of them. They know if they come in contact with someone who has a fever or anybody who tests positive for COVID, they’re not allowed to show up to practice and they’re required to report that immediately. All these young men know this [playing with the Spartans] is in the best interest of them, so if something like that happens, it’s not going to impact their playing time or anything like that, we just want to make sure everybody is safe and healthy out here.”
According to Woods, parents and opposing coaches in the region were generally open to their student athletes competing with the Spartans. The question most frequently asked was if players would be subject to losing eligibility for the proposed spring season, which he says will not be the case.
“If we’re not eligible, then you have to shut down AAU basketball, you have to shut down lacrosse, you have to shut down travel soccer, you have to shut all those down,” Woods said. “Our coaches got permission from their AD’s to be out here. Our AD [at Patriot] is the head of Northern Virginia for VHSL [Virginia High School League] for all AD’s. So, once he gave us the green light, we pushed forward.”
The Spartans are scheduled to kick off their season Friday, Sept. 18. This is a developing situation.