Lawsuit filed against WVSSAC, affecting Berkeley County high school soccer and the state tournament

Sports

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. (WDVM) – On Monday morning, a lawsuit was filed against the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, which seeks to delay the state soccer tournaments, until after equal testing opportunities are provided to Berkeley County and all other counties.

According to the legal filings, “Emily Beck vs. West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission”, the petitioner, Emily Beck, is a high school soccer player for the Martinsburg Bulldogs; and is bringing this action on behalf of herself and other high school soccer players in Berkeley County, specifically from Musselman High School, Hedgesville High School, and Spring Mills High School.

“Our position in this lawsuit, is that its a violation of the student’s equal protection of the law, in this county because they are being denied the opportunity to participate even though they have not been provided.” said Barry Beck, representing Emily Beck “The residents of this community have not been provided an equal opportunity to receive testing from the state and local authorities.”

The court documents presents a timeline, detailing the steps and dates for high school soccer in West Virginia, outlining the color-coded map that was developed as an alert system to monitor COVID-19 case rates in each county. The map relies on one of two metrics to determine the color assigned to each county.

Colors are then assigned based on each metric, with different stipulations and thresholds for participation in high school sports. The colors are; green, yellow, gold, orange, and red. Since October 17, Berkeley County has been designated in the orange color, and as a result, Emily Beck and others in the county have been unable to participate in the state soccer tournament.

When a county reaches the “orange” mark, the county health department is supposed to set up free testing sites within 24 hours. The documents list specific dates and times for those testing times, for each week since October 17th, and in the month as a whole; but also points out the discrepancy when it comes to the availability and volume of testing that Kanawha County had.

“What we found out was, through doing a lot of research to understand this; Berkeley County although is the second-largest county in the state, and not that far behind the largest county, Kanawha County, has proportionally had far, far, far less testing availability.” said Barry Beck “In other words, Kanawha County, when they were in jeopardy of not being able to play because of their color status, the governmental agencies, I believe state, local – all made testing widely available in Kanawha County for several days a week, at several locations.”

Compared to the eighty-three hours of free testing available in Kanawha County; Berkeley County only had forty-eight hours of it. In the document, the petitioner claims that because lower testing opportunities were made available to Berkeley County, that in turn affected the way a lower positivity rate could have been achieved, which then affects high school sports.

“We’re asking the court to recognize here, that the students have not been treated fairly in relation to other students in the state.” said Beck.

In regards to the possibility of delaying the state soccer tournament, WVSSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan spoke with our sports department, and said that the timeline of it would be too uncertain, and unfair for other counties that can participate right now.

“We’re not sure what a delay would look like – if we would delay for this week with those same counties who are in yellow – green – or gold this week, would they then go into a color that is not able to play.” said Bernie Dolan “And so then we have to postpone again – and postpone again – so at what point do we know when all of the communities would be in a color we could participate.”

The court filings also list the example of cross-country athletes, and golf athletes from other counties, that have been able to participate in their seasons, despite their county’s color designation being orange; as an example of uneven criteria that is unfair.

“As we get into post-season, we did petition the state health director, to see if we could – testing in the low risk sports as identified by the National Federation, and those were golf, and cross country. And then also sideline cheer.” said Bernie Dolan “And so we have allowed those people to participate if they had a negative test, because by the nature of their sport, they are not spending very much time together. They are spread out amongst the golf course, or the cross country course. And so it was agreed upon it would be acceptable.”

According to guidance from the NFHS, the National Federation of State High School Association, sports are broken into three different categories; high, moderate, and low. High school soccer is defined as moderate-risk sport.

From the document, presented from the NFHS approved in May 2020, it defines a moderate risk sport as “Sports that involve close, sustained contact, but with protective equipment in place
that may reduce the likelihood of respiratory particle transmission between participants OR
intermittent close contact OR group sports OR sports that use equipment that can’t be cleaned
between participants.”

An exception was listed, where it states a sport “could potentially be considered “Lower Risk” with appropriate cleaning of equipment and use of masks by participants.”

The court hearing is set for Wednesday, at 1 PM ET, in the Circuit Court of Berkeley County, West Virginia.

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