PORTSMOUTH — This past week, the Ohio High School Athletic Association — by issuing guidelines on Wednesday for its seven fall sports — indeed remains firm for an Aug. 1 start date for those fall sports practices.
There’s just one problem still as we enter the final week of July.
The state, specifically Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, has yet to make a final decision on “full contact” sports —especially football — as DeWine deals daily with the continuing coronavirus threat.
On Wednesday afternoon, prior to two e-mails from OHSAA interim Executive Director Bob Goldring to member schools including an “administrator update”, DeWine and Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted side-stepped directly answering a question in regards to fall sports — as part of the state’s “daily” press briefing.
DeWine was asked specifically about “full contact” sports, as his office continually watches the statewide statistics showing increasing confirmed coronavirus cases.
More time is necessary to make a decision, he said.
Therefore, no decisions —as some had hoped for or even anticipated —were announced on Wednesday.
“Frankly, we’ve got to get a little closer to this in time,” said DeWine. “We know that training is going on. We know and training needs to take place. We understand the timeline, but we want to see where we are. We need to get a little closer before we can make any kind of decision in regard to that.”
Immediately upon that, Husted followed up in answering a question in regards to an Ohio High School Football Coaches Association proposal — which DeWine’s office received earlier in the week.
“I have seen it. It’s right here on my iPad. So we are taking a look at their plan,” said Husted. “They’ve done some great work. It’s very helpful to informing our conversations.”
That said, or not said, a decision — if any — by the OHSAA on whether to keep its Aug. 1 date, or even delay or cancel the fall sports seasons altogether, needs to be made this week.
But, the beginning of fall sports comes amid the backdrop of more Ohio counties — precisely a quarter of the entire state to be exact— having been designated as “Red”.
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 Lawrence 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 23 counties at a Level 3 with one county —Allen — considered “on watch” for being bumped to the highest and most severe, which is Level 4.
Several Scioto County and Lawrence County school districts, either as a precautionary measure or in fact due to at least one confirmed coronavirus case within their athletic programs, have shut down ALL athletic-related activities until at least Aug. 1.
Some will wait to resume two days later — on Monday, Aug. 3.
In Wednesday’s OHSAA memo, Goldring acknowledged the risks associated with the coronavirus —and that participation in athletics activities remains up to individual school districts.
“The risk of coronavirus transmission will still be present to some degree as interscholastic athletics activities begin in August and will continue until there is a widely available vaccine or therapeutic care, possibly through the 2020-21 school year,” Goldring wrote. “While the science about COVID-19 is evolving, it will be important to remain vigilant and nimble to respond to new developments. Students and their families, along with school personnel, must recognize these risks and implement best practices to reasonably mitigate these risks. Participation in school activities is voluntary and every individual will need to evaluate the risk versus the benefits of athletics participation. Those immunocompromised students and staff, or those who live with family members with elevated health concerns, should evaluate associated risks of participation and may choose not to participate.”
The OHSAA’s 22-page “COVID-19 Return to Play” document was released on Wednesday with its latest memo, as its link can be found on the association’s website at www.ohsaa.org.
“The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has presented the OHSAA with a myriad of challenges. The Executive Director’s Office, with support from its Board of Directors and feedback from the Ohio Joint Advisory Committee on Sports Medicine, the National Federation of State High School Associations and the Ohio Department of Health along with support from the Ohio Lt. Governor’s Office, offer a ‘Return to Play’ document as recommendations on how our member schools can consider approaching the many components of ‘opening up’ sports with the objective of commencing the fall sports seasons on August 1, 2020,” Goldring wrote. “The OHSAA fully intends to support its member schools and the student-athletes who desire to compete in interscholastic athletics and will continue to assess all areas as more information becomes available. We encourage you to especially pay attention to the early pages of the document closely since they indicate that many of the recommendations can ONLY be utilized if mandates from the Ohio Department of Health Director’s Order are modified.”
Links for specific recommendations and considerations of the seven fall sports are also included in the release.
“The recommendations within the ‘Return to Play’ document for the resumption of varsity, non-varsity and 7th-8th grade interscholastic athletic seasons and participation opportunities have been made with the health, safety and well-being of all student-athletes in mind,” the memo said. “Every school is different, and every athletics activity is different. Certain mitigation strategies may be feasible in one school or for one activity, but not another.”
Generally speaking, the guidelines include social distancing AND the requirement of face coverings while not on the field or court of play, plus “reducing or greatly eliminating unnecessary travel; reducing or eliminating sharing of common equipment, and reducing or eliminating contact frequency with student-athletes from schools and non-interscholastic programs outside of each school’s league/conference or normal competition sphere.”
As of Thursday, “the Ohio Department of Health was in the process of developing guidance for contact sport inter-team competitive play, and the OHSAA will share it with member schools when complete. The existing guidance permits non-contact sport practices and competitive play, and contact sport practices and intra-team scrimmages but NOT inter-team (i.e., other schools/teams) scrimmages or competitive play at this time.”
Either way, although Aug. 1 officially remains the fall sports start date, the OHSAA knows a final decision is up to DeWine.
Since the outset of the coronavirus threat, the OHSAA has been in near lockstep with the state’s accompanying orders.
Wednesday’s memo 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.
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