PORTSMOUTH — No matter the medium, the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s message over the last 10 days remains steadfast.
As of mid-July, it’s “Game On” for fall sports.
Of course, and even as the OHSAA admits, it can all quickly change in one fell swoop.
As of Thursday night, the OHSAA — originally explained by interim Executive Director Bob Goldring in a memo to member schools on July 7 — is planning on not only having fall sports for 2020, but intends to start them on schedule.
Official practices for fall sports are set to begin on Aug. 1, with the first weekend of Ohio high school football being the last weekend in August.
“The OHSAA Office is proceeding as if fall sports will occur, meaning practices will begin on Aug. 1 and we will conduct our usual series of tournaments in 10 fall sports. As you all have seen during this pandemic, those plans can be modified or cancelled quickly,” Goldring wrote.
One week later, in an association statement on Tuesday following a teleconference with a small number of statewide media members, Ohio’s governing body for high school sports doubled down on that plan.
The OHSAA went so far as to post that official statement on its Twitter account, stating “OHSAA is moving forward with our normal fall sports seasons, and as always, each school will determine which sports they sponsor.”
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s office has already declared three sports — boys and girls golf, girls tennis and volleyball —as “low contact”, “meaning those sports can have competitions between schools”.
In the July 7 memo, Goldring wrote that DeWine’s office announced that volleyball is now “viewed as a non-contact sport, something which was previously a gray area”.
But the OHSAA’s other four fall sports —cross country, field hockey, football and soccer — “have not yet been approved by the Governor to have competitions between schools.”
“Those four sports can practice, but the Governor must approve competition between schools. The OHSAA is working with the Governor’s Office toward safety protocols and permission for those sports this fall.”
Speaking of DeWine’s office, Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted was asked directly during DeWine’s “daily” — or rather twice-weekly— coronavirus response briefing on Thursday about “fall sports”.
To paraphrase, Husted said the state is working directly with schools and the OHSAA, but is still gathering information regarding upcoming decisions on those “full contact” sports.
Therefore, no decisions —as some had hoped for or even anticipated —were announced on Thursday.
Husted also admitted that athletic trainers’ roles in the decision-making process for any guidelines or return-to-play mandates has been limited.
Since the outset of the coronavirus threat, the OHSAA has been in near lockstep with the state’s accompanying orders.
Tuesday’s statement was the latest in a series of communications from and actions by the OHSAA, which included an April 20 announcement that ALL 2020 spring sports seasons were officially canceled.
Since then, the fate of fall sports has been the primary focus, as programs were initially allowed to resume practices in various capacities — following the OHSAA lifting its mandatory dead period, effective the day after Memorial Day.
But this already abnormal summer, especially since Independence Day, has resulted in several statewide school districts stopping those workouts —as confirmed coronavirus cases continue to spike.
In fact, Portsmouth High has been forced to shut down all athletics activities until July 20 —as the result of a single positive test.
Other unconfirmed county districts, whether for a singular team or an entire athletics program, have also temporarily stopped practices.
On Thursday, Northwest became the latest confirmed county district to halt workouts — but that was because of DeWine’s announcement involving, in part, Scioto County.
The newly-created Ohio Public Health Advisory System — as part of the statewide response to the coronavirus threat — currently has Scioto County listed as a Level 3 Public Emergency, meaning there is “very high exposure and spread” of the virus and for individuals to “limit activities as much as possible.”
During DeWine’s Thursday update, he said that Scioto County had moved to that present designation due to the significant rise in cases over the past two weeks.
There are four total levels, with presently 19 counties at a Level 3 with one county —Athens — considered “on watch” for being bumped to the highest and most severe, which is Level 4.
With that Level 3 declaration, the likelihood is high that all dozen of Scioto County’s school districts will indefinitely shutter all athletic activities.
But for now, at least for the OHSAA, it’s still “Game On” for fall sports.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved