Summer sports guidance informs conversations about fall season
Cascade High School sits on a rural Marion County intersection surrounded by corn fields, in the “middle of nowhere,” said a school administrator.
It also sits in the heart of a community’s life, with sports and activities serving as a rallying point, source of pride and family entertainment.
When the Oregon School Activities Association ended all spring sports and activities in March, students and communities felt the loss deeply. When OSAA offered a path forward last week for summer sports, school leaders grabbed onto it as a glimpse of what fall might offer.
Cascade High School Athletic Director Tim Ganfield found the prospects encouraging.
“The hope piece is what I really want to give to my community, the hope that we are making progress,” he said. “There is going to be something for us.”
School facilities are still closed under Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders, but school leaders are laying down contingency plans for summer and fall. No one knows what curve balls the coronavirus will still throw at schools, but it is fairly certain sports seasons and workouts won’t look like they have in the past.
“The plan is we’ll have a plan,” Ganfield said.
OSAA, a nonprofit agency that writes the rules for most Oregon high school sports and activities, will offer a framework in the coming month. OSAA doesn’t answer to the Oregon Department of Education, but most of its members do, so it works in close consultation. Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Colt Gill regularly discusses sports issues with OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber.
“We’re centering families, youth, educators, local district leaders, and community organizations throughout the state in the planning process because the people who are most involved with schools are the ideal source for the solutions we need,” Gill said.
OSAA is dedicated to student safety, as it weighs the benefits of sports and activities against COVID-19 risks, Weber said.
“We’re going to err on the side of making it safe for them,” he said.
The spring high school season traditionally ends Memorial Day weekend. OSAA announced that beginning Tuesday, May 26, member schools could decide what athletics and activities they would allow for summer in accordance with directives from ODE, Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority.
ODE has said school facilities must remain closed through the end of the school year, but more guidances are coming to align with the governor’s phased reopening of Oregon.
In the meantime, OSAA offered a detailed guide to Phase 1 resumption of summer sports and activities. The guide divides sports and activities into three levels of infection risk, and it lays out precautions for each sport. In general, team sport practices and sharing of equipment should be avoided, but conditioning and skill drills are possible. Cleaning protocols are essential.
The precautions can be onerous, frustrating some coaches. It’s difficult to practice if you can’t pass a ball from one player to another.
Weber said the first question for school districts must be whether they even want to do sports.
“Is it realistic enough that a school district, in and amongst everything else it is trying to do right now, is going to have the time, energy and resources to do it?” Weber said. “What we are trying to provide is, if you are choosing to do it, here’s how you should do it.”
Dufur Superintendent Jack Henderson said the guidance is “moving the dial toward getting back into activities.”
Henderson has been coaching Dufur football for 33 years. The health and safety of his students comes first, but he also knows the integral role of sports in his school and the community south of The Dalles.
“Our communities are hungry for watching their student athletes compete,” he said. “We just need to be responsible about how we move back in.”
OSAA hopes to have its Phase 2 guidance ready by June 5, Weber said.
The protocols for fall sports, which officially start Aug. 17, will likely be based on the summer guidance but they will be rules, not recommendations, Weber said. A lot will depend on when and how schools reopen and what medical authorities say will be safe.
Weber said they are considering a variety of options. Some team and high-contact sports, such as football, might face more restrictions than more solitary sports, such as cross country. It is unlikely any spring sports will be played in the fall.
OSAA is considering significant adjustments, such as starting seasons later, restricting spectators or limiting team travel to regional games. Weber said they are also keeping in mind that sports or activities are the main reason many students come to school.
“Our board remains committed to providing as many opportunities to as many kids as possible,” Weber said.
The OSAA guide recognizes that access and opportunity will not be equal for students across sports or regions.
The Mid-Willamette Conference’s athletic directors have agreed that no schools can hold practices or tryouts before June 30 so that no team can gain an advantage by putting their players at greater risk, said Corvallis High School Athletic Director Salvador Muñoz.
Muñoz, however, has encouraged his coaches to contact students and suggest workouts, both for their conditioning and for the mental health benefits that come with being active and engaged.
Muñoz said he has thoroughly studied OSAA’s document and discussed it with coaches, with safety always the most important concern.
The next big question is when sports can fully start up again, Muñoz said, even if it involves shortened seasons or changes to rules.
“With what we just went through with spring sports, something is better than nothing,” he said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA