PORTSMOUTH — Unfortunately, the waiting game involving “full contact” high school sports in Ohio goes on after all — and now as a result — drags into another week.
But, and in being specific about a particular date, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine —during his “daily” coronavirus press briefing on Thursday —repeatedly insisted that his long-awaited announcement is indeed coming on Tuesday (Aug. 18).
The month of August has featured fall sports season practices for Ohio High School Athletic Association-sanctioned sports, but as of now, the “full contact” sports of football and soccer cannot conduct inter-squad scrimmages or games —thanks to an Ohio Department of Health order which was initially signed on July 4, and currently has no new expiration date.
However, when DeWine was asked during the media’s question-and-answer session on Thursday, he hinted that “full contact” sports will in fact take place despite the continued coronavirus threat—provided that he and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted hash out any detailed plans with OHSAA officials over this weekend.
Hence, as he restated, the announcement is coming Tuesday.
DeWine did say, though, that the number of spectators shall be limited at events — and that individual school districts and health departments will play a major role in his decision-making.
He also said he plans to set up a call with some statewide coaches.
“I can tell you this much, this decision will be made by parents and by schools and will restrict the number of fans,” said DeWine. “We want the athletes to compete, and the young people to have their seasons, but do so as safely as possible. We’ll be working with the Ohio High School Athletic Association and coaches over the weekend and we’ll get more into that on Tuesday. We want to get this right and make it as safe as possible. We’re working on the details for every one of the sports, we’ll hopefully get that done this weekend, and so that will be coming.”
While “full contact” sports, which for Scioto County are only football and soccer, may proceed with practices — inter-squad competition remains prohibited “unless ALL teams comply with the requirements set forth in Section 10 of this (ODH) Order so as to minimize the spread of COVID-19. This Order applies to both public and private activities and facilities”.
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 didn’t anticipate that suspension being lifted any time soon.
Then last Friday, in a swift late-day news dump that actually included a bombshell announcement, the OHSAA Board of Directors “approved a modification to the (OHSAA) football season that we believe will be a win‐win for all parties.”
That press release proceeded an e-mailed memo to member schools from OHSAA interim Executive Director Bob Goldring, as he wrote that “while affirming that our fall sports seasons will start as planned, the modification will shorten the length of the 2020 football regular season to a six‐game schedule prior to the playoffs beginning.”
A 10-game regular season reduced down to six, starting the week of Aug. 24 and ending the week of Sept. 28.
The playoffs would begin on Friday, Oct. 9 — with the state finals ending no later than Saturday, Nov. 21.
Goldring wrote that the OHSAA, “in continuing our constructive, ongoing conversations with the Governor’s Office, we were advised this week that ending our season earlier in football was in the best interest of the participants due to the uncertainty of what colder weather could do to COVID‐19 cases. It should be noted (and as previously communicated) that school vs. school competition in football (and the other contact sports of soccer and field hockey) will not move forward unless the Ohio Director of Health’s Order is amended.”
Husted hasn’t made any announcement either, and has maintained that discussions with the OHSAA are ongoing.
The situation with fall sports was first mentioned in mid-March, but following the April 20 cancellation of the OHSAA’s spring sports seasons, the focus then shifted to saving the fall.
It was widely believed that DeWine was going to make some significant sports-related announcements earlier this month, but for five straight press briefings dating back to July 30, the proverbial can has been continuously kicked down the road.
DeWine 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 says.
Therefore, no decisions —as some had hoped for or even anticipated —were announced (again) on Thursday.
But, in his own words, that announcement indeed is coming next week —Tuesday to be exact.
He gave the indication that “full contact” sports would be cleared for inter-squad competition, but emphasized again that community and school standards do —and will —drive the bus.
“What goes on in the school and what goes on with the athletes is directly related to what goes on in the community,” said DeWine. “If you want your son or daughter to play sports or have any other extra-curricular activities, the ability of the schools to stay open and the ability of the children to play sports is directly dependent on what’s going on in the community. It just is. As I said, the goal is to have this decision made by parents, school districts and local health departments.”
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 month — due to either positive cases of the coronavirus or fears of it spreading among student-athletes and coaches.
Prior to DeWine’s press briefing on Thursday, Columbus City Schools announced it was suspending ALL sports and extra-curricular activities, effective on Friday.
Those athletics activities shutdowns are largely based on the recommendation by individual county health departments, as the OHSAA holds firm that extra-curriculars are strictly a decision made by each individual Ohio school district.
One thing that school districts do not want is overkill with coronavirus testing, although the ODH order is adamant about that — and would have to be amended.
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.
For football (target date of Monday, Aug. 24) and soccer (target date of Friday, Aug. 21), a July 31 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.
Husted did say last Tuesday that extensive and mandatory coronavirus testing of athletes prior to competition is “not part of the plan” for the resumption of “full contact” sports.
But again, DeWine and Husted remain in conversation with the OHSAA — and an announcement, at long last, is expected this Tuesday.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved