PORTSMOUTH — Like a volleyball or tennis match, or even fast-paced ping pong, how fitting for the first weekend in August of a back-and-forth for fall sports.
That’s because, in a fast-moving three days featuring an e-mailed Ohio High School Athletic Association memo to member schools and a public Sunday statement sandwiched around an extended Ohio Department of Health order, fall sports in Ohio for 2020 have officially begun —but it remains to be seen for exactly how long.
As of Monday morning, for those statewide school districts which haven’t cancelled or delayed their extra-curricular activities in response to the coronavirus threat, they were practicing what sports they offer — as the OHSAA officially sanctions seven sports in the fall.
Still, meetings — and possibly decisions — into Monday afternoon were taking place, as the true fate of ALL of the OHSAA’s fall sports still rests with the directives of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Lt. Governor Jon Husted.
After the weekend flurry of communications, there was nothing new as far as seismic developments, as the OHSAA on Friday —as it has repeatedly and public insisted —“reaffirmed their position that the fall sports seasons will go forward as planned. That means low/non‐contact sports and contact sports will be permitted to begin official practices tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 1) as had been previously announced.”
But DeWine, with a signed second extension of an ODH order on Saturday night, continues to make it difficult for “full contact” sports such as football and soccer to proceed forward.
The original order — which was signed for 10 days during July to allow The Basketball Tournament to take place at Nationwide Arena in Columbus — initially expired July 15, but has now twice been extended with no new expiration date.
The order allows for practices in ALL sports, but only inter-squad competition is permitted for “low contact” and “non contact” sports — which include girls tennis, volleyball and golf.
Cross country, in the extended order, is no longer classified as a “full contact sport” —but the OHSAA on Sunday was working to confirm its new designation as a “low contact sport”.
The first boys and/or girls golf matches can take place on Wednesday (Aug. 5), while the first girls tennis matches can take place beginning Friday (Aug 7).
After an allowable five scrimmages and one permitted preview, volleyball’s first contest can take place on Aug. 21.
Those sports must also continue to follow COVID-19 prevention guidelines, as they were allowed to resume practice the day after Memorial Day.
The OHSAA’s 22-page “COVID-19 Return to Play” document was released July 22 with that dated memo, as its link can be found on the association’s website at www.ohsaa.org.
While “full contact” sports may proceed with practices, inter-squad competition remains prohibited — “unless ALL teams comply with the requirements set forth in Section 10 of this Order so as to minimize the spread of COVID-19. This Order applies to both public and private activities and facilities”.
The order — which can be found at https://coronavirus.ohio.gov/static/publicorders/Corrected-Third-Orderd-Amended-Order-Contact-Sport.pdf — also states that IF and WHEN contact competition can resume, ALL players, coaches, athletic trainers, support staff and officials must have a COVID-19 test administered no more than 72 hours before competition AND have a negative result in hand in order to participate.
In other words, according to the OHSAA, those testing requirements are not realistic.
In an e-mailed memo to member schools on July 28, the OHSAA announced the immediate and indefinite suspension of ALL inter-squad scrimmages and contests — and doesn’t anticipate that suspension being lifted any time soon.
For football (target date of Monday, Aug. 24) and soccer (target date of Friday, Aug. 21), Friday’s memo mentioned “school vs. school contests will follow per their normal OHSAA permissible dates and regulations” with their respective target dates, BUT “these dates are subject to change and subject to the approval from the Governor’s Office/Ohio Department of Health and with the stipulation that COVID‐19 testing will not be required”.
And, truth be told, that testing WILL be a major sticking point —as most schools simply can not, and will not, be able to afford its expensive cost.
Perhaps in anticipation, the OHSAA offered three contingency plans for its fall seasons.
• If contact sports are not approved for school vs. school competition by Friday, Sept. 4, fall contact sports and remaining winter and spring sports will move to a condensed schedule that will take place between mid‐December and the end of June. Fall non‐contact sports would move forward as scheduled.
• If the fall seasons begin and, for some reason, are stopped but then resume, the OHSAA has plans to move to a modified fall sports season.
• If contact sports are approved for school vs. school competition, the OHSAA is prepared to set COVID‐19‐related requirements for schools to follow for competitions as requested by the Governor’s Office. The OHSAA will govern and issue consequences for the violation of these requirements as prescribed in OHSAA Bylaw 11, Penalties.
Other guidelines of the ODH order include conducting daily symptom assessments; mandatory wearing of face coverings for athletic trainers, coaches and officials; strict social distancing rules for players who are not actively engaged in practice or in in-game competition; and immediate isolation and medical care for individuals which develop coronavirus symptoms.
While most of the state presently presses on, many Ohio high school programs —including some of the larger districts in the larger cities —have either cancelled fall sports, or have delayed them until at least Oct. 1.
Several have shut down within the last week — due to either positive cases of the coronavirus or fears of it spreading among student-athletes and coaches.
The OHSAA, in response, posted a statement on Sunday which said —in part — “the OHSAA is working to confirm details with the Ohio Department of Health within the ‘Contact Sports Defined’ section based on the order signed by the ODH on Saturday, Aug. 1. The OHSAA continues to work with the Governor’s Office and the ODH regarding our requested modifications for high school sports regarding safety protocols and spectators.”
The Ohio High School Football Coaches Association is also working with Husted, regarding review of its 39-page proposal which was submitted to the state two weeks ago.
An originally scheduled Tuesday teleconference, which was to include OHSFCA and OHSAA representatives along with Husted, was moved up a day to Monday —per an OHSFCA memo to member coaches sent Sunday.
That proposal covers, in great detail, the feasibility of playing this year.
DeWine will have, or is scheduled to have, another press briefing on Tuesday (Aug. 4) at 2 p.m.
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