After months of no high school sports due to COVID-19, schools throughout the state are finally opening their doors to the return of athletics this fall. Some safety protocols have been put in place but Verde Valley School is welcoming the return of sports during the fall athletic season.
The VVS equestrian program is one of the activities set to return at the school. Among the new safety measures is a handwashing station. On top of that, riders will not share equipment with each other. Beyond that, though, social distancing comes naturally with riding a horse.
“Luckily, everything in the equestrian program happens outdoors and we are blessed with great weather and stunning vistas, so that is a huge help,” equestrian program director Caroline Diehl said. “Horses are large animals, so physical distancing while actually riding [once we ride away from the barn area] is quite easy and natural and will allow us to enjoy the fresh air without masks.”
There are some challenges. One is that transportation is required when riders do all day trail rides. With COVID, arranging that transportation in a safe way is tricky.
Another is that until the school gives its OK, there will be no off-campus competitive events, which has become standard elsewhere. But Diehl noted that if there’s interest she plans on offering friendly internal competitions.
Diehl added that regardless of what normal services can and cannot be offered, she’s happy that the equestrian program can return in some capacity.
“Horses reward patience, consistency and resilience [essential tools in these times of constant change] with an incredible bond that all humans, and especially teens, really need right now,” she said. “I’m thrilled for our students to have the horses available to them, especially right now.”
Another long standing program returning to VVS is mountain biking. Similar to equestrian, mountain biking is a sport that can be done independently for the most part.
Program director John Chorlton said that maintaining that distance will be among the biggest challenges this year.
“I think mountain biking is a pretty good fit for the students at VVS despite having to mask up and physically distance ourselves,” Chorlton said. “The challenges will be having our masks accessible and remembering to consistently use them when protocols call for them. Another challenge will be maintaining appropriate distance between riders while riding.”
In addition to equestrian and mountain biking, other services being offered are trail running [done in lieu of cross country, normally offered in the fall,] sports speed and agility, hiking, outdoor fitness training, basketball training and climbing.
“We practice what we preach at VVS,” Chorlton said. “Life is full of challenges and things don’t always go to plan so you have to have grit and a steadfastness about dealing with adversity. Athletically we lose some ground in competitive interscholastic sports, but we are well positioned to keep the outdoor activity level high and fun.”