OHSAA suspends contact sports scrimmages

By Paul Boggs - pboggs@aimmediamidwest.com

PORTSMOUTH — While Ohio Governor Mike DeWine didn’t offer any answers on Tuesday afternoon, the Ohio High School Athletic Association actually — by nightfall — did.

However, for fall “full contact” sports in the Buckeye State, what the OHSAA said — in an e-mailed memo to member schools — likely wasn’t what those particular players, coaches or even fans and observers wanted to hear.

That’s because, despite the OHSAA’s insistence — and repeatedly and publicly stated — that its 2020 fall sports seasons will in fact start practices on Saturday (Aug. 1), the association announced that ALL inter-school scrimmages of its “full contact” sports are indeed suspended until further notice.

Even more noteworthy, and alarming, is that the OHSAA doesn’t anticipate that suspension being lifted any time soon —with the very real possibility that no preseason scrimmages in either football or soccer will take place this year.

The OHSAA, following another ”daily” DeWine press briefing which the governor has held regularly since the coronavirus threat began in mid-March, e-mailed member school administrators with its third memo in a week on Tuesday night.

It was authored once again by OHSAA interim Executive Director Bob Goldring, who opened by stating “we continue in conversations with the Governor’s Office on our plans to ensure we are in concert.”

The memo actually began with good news, as “initial data received from our membership survey has been shared and is helpful to both the Governor’s Office and ours in the decision making.”

On Monday, the OHSAA e-mailed its member schools a survey — “to assist the OHSAA with determining possible changes to the fall sports seasons based on future mandates or permissions determined by the state government or Ohio Department of Health”.

The association released another two-sentence statement re-stating its desire “to move forward with all sports programs currently planned for 2020.”

“Official practices for all sports are scheduled to begin Saturday, Aug. 1,” the statement said.

On Tuesday, however, the memo made it known the division between “low contact OR non contact” sports AND “full contact” sports.

Since early July — and remains unchanged — the “low contact” or “non contact” sports of golf, girls tennis and volleyball are permitted to conduct inter-squad scrimmages and contests, and can follow “their normal OHSAA permissible dates and regulations”.

Practices can also begin on Saturday for four “full contact” sports — football, soccer, field hockey and cross country — but Goldring wrote that “we (OHSAA) are waiting for more guidance from the Governor’s Office and Department of Health on when school vs. school competition can begin and are hopeful of that permission being granted for our normal contest dates later in August.”

At that point, the “bad” news regarding “full contact” sports spelled itself out.

”To that end, school vs. school scrimmages are SUSPENDED. We do not anticipate that suspension changing soon and there remains the possibility that no scrimmages will be permitted in the contact sports of football, soccer and field hockey,” Goldring wrote. “We will certainly keep you updated if that changes.”

Another possible change coming, in that same point, is cross country being moved from the “full contact” sports category to either “low contact” or “non contact”.

The OHSAA’s 22-page “COVID-19 Return to Play” document was released last Wednesday with that dated memo, as its link can be found on the association’s website at www.ohsaa.org.

“Our discussions with the Governor’s Office are clear … If we want our student-athletes to learn the lifelong lessons and receive the social, emotional and physical benefits that the privilege of participating in education-based interscholastic athletics programs provide, we all have to be accountable for following all mandates and requirements. By not following the mandates and requirements, we are putting our student-athletes at risk of not only contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 but also at risk of losing the season for themselves, their families, their teammates, their schools and their communities. Mandates and requirements put into place must be followed in order for the Governor’s Office to continue to allow us to participate,” Goldring wrote. “To that end, the OHSAA is working to finalize contest day mandates and requirements that are to be strictly enforced, and our administrators, coaches and student-athletes will be held accountable for non-compliance. So as to not cause alarm, these mandates and requirements will be to elevate many of the recommendations that were provided in the OHSAA ‘Return to Play’ Recommendations document to the level of mandates and requirements and should not require wholesale modifications to your game-day protocol.”

Since the outset of the coronavirus threat, the OHSAA has been in near lockstep with the state’s accompanying orders.

Tuesday’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.

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 (July 23) 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.

DeWine — who has held three press briefings in the past week and is scheduled to do so again on Thursday (July 30) — has been 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 (again) on Tuesday.

When asked about sports, he responded with a generic, non-committal, even off-tangent answer.

“We are at a critical stage with this virus,” said DeWine. “We don’t know which way it’s going to go. If we knew where it was going to be in four weeks, or in three weeks, we would be in a much better position to make a decision in regard to sports. We are seeing, particularly in the red counties, significant increase in the use of masks. On the negative side, we’re not going down yet. We’re having to make difficult decisions. We have young people who are going to be doing something this summer. It’s up to parents whether being involved in organized sports is a better and safer option for their child. The pathway needs to be going down in cases, the positivity number needs to start going down. Parents are making tough choices, and those tough choices are only going to get more difficult if we don’t get control of this virus.”

With that reply, DeWine didn’t directly offer any answers involving fall sports — but the OHSAA indeed did.

The OHSAA, though, wasn’t the only high school sports governing body making major announcements on Tuesday.

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Board of Control approved to delay the opening of its “full contact” fall sports practices — including football — to Monday, Aug. 24, with regular-season football games now set to begin on Friday, Sept. 11.

That coincides with the third week of Ohio’s season, so Wheelersburg’s trip to Ashland (Ky.) remains scheduled, but Ironton’s week-two (Sept. 4) rivalry matchup at Russell (Ky.) is now canceled.

So too is Coal Grove’s season opener on Aug. 28 against Fairview (Ky.).

The KHSAA additionally voted to limit out-of-state competition in fall sports to schools from a neighboring state which reside in a border county to Kentucky.

This means —barring any changes from individual school administrations —that already-scheduled football games between Greenup County and Wheelersburg, Greenup County and Minford and Greenup County and Notre Dame remain on.

Of course, if the OHSAA and/or DeWine decides to delay — let alone cancel — the football season, then those contests are unlikely to take place.

As of today, representatives of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association and Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted are scheduled to discuss via teleconference on Aug. 4 the 39-page proposal the OHSFCA submitted to the state 10 days ago.

That proposal covers, in great detail, the feasibility of playing this year.


By Paul Boggs


Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at pboggs@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at pboggs@aimmediamidwest.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved