As football season nears implosion, students hope for rules change
In August, Umatilla High School senior Eric Hoyos-Diaz was happy football had been rescheduled to start in February. He said he needed to showcase his football skills to earn a college spot, and he just wanted to play.
Oregon football practice officially begins Monday, Feb. 8. Hoyos-Diaz has been practicing and conditioning, but he is still not sure he will get to play.
Under current state rules, football games and contact drills are prohibited everywhere in Oregon. The Oregon School Activities Association, the state’s high school sports governing body, will meet Monday to discuss whether there can be a football season, as well as details for other sports.
Executive Director Peter Weber is hoping the governor will change the rules before then.
Sports and activities for K-12 schools fall under Gov. Kate Brown’s executive orders related to county risk levels. Counties with higher levels of coronavirus spread have more restricted social, recreation and business activities.
The governor’s office did not return calls Tuesday for comment.
On Friday, Brown updated the “Sector Risk Level Guidance Chart” slightly to allow some indoor recreation in counties deemed “extreme risk.” Currently, 25 counties fall into that category.
The risk chart decides what sports in which counties can be played.
In December, OSAA released a new high school sports schedule that moved to February the traditional “fall” sports: football, volleyball, cross-country and soccer.
Among the sports governed by OSAA, football, wrestling, basketball and some cheer and dance are considered “full contact” sports and prohibited at all county risk levels. Students can still train and condition, though.
Cross-country, volleyball and soccer are scheduled to start practices Feb. 22, but they also face restrictions. All students must wear masks, even while competing. Outdoor sports have limits on the number of people present based on county risk levels, with a maximum of 50 at the extreme risk level.
Indoor recreation in gyms is limited to six participants in extreme risk counties, making some volleyball practice possible but ruling out contests. Right now, about 47 Oregon schools could play volleyball, according to Weber.
The county rules prohibit more than two schools at a time competing, which rules out the typical multi-school cross-country meet.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last week that found little spread of coronavirus in schools but a greater danger with indoor sports.
Oregon is one of the few states that has not allowed any sanctioned high school sports this academic year. Idaho has had few restrictions. Washington started football this week, and California is discussing starting football. Only Connecticut and Hawaii have officially canceled their football seasons.
Some border schools could play across state lines, but they would face recommended travel quarantines.
OSAA is limited by Brown’s rules, but its executive board has sought to maintain as many sports and activity options as possible because of the social, mental and academic benefits for students.
“We feel like the reward is greater than the risk, provided people follow the protocols,” Weber said. “Kids are pretty resilient. If they have to wear a mask to play or they don’t play, they put the mask on and they figure it out.”
Canby School District parent Nancy Thompson said she doesn’t want her twin daughters, Ellie and Zoe, to miss their senior soccer season. Thompson has been thankful for practices in their community south of Portland that give her children some exercise and social time.
“You have to respect everyone’s stance on it, but I think those girls ought to have a choice whether it’s the right thing for them or not,” Thompson said.
While the seasons were shut down, OSAA allowed coaches to hold out-of-season practices and for schools to schedule out-of-season contests where allowed by county rules.
On Monday, Feb. 1, Centennial High School in Gresham held its first in-person athletic practices since schools shut down.
Athletic Director Terry Schloth said the layoff was obvious in the students’ conditioning but they were happy to be there.
“Even though it was cold and raining, they were having fun,” he said. “It’s going to take some time to ease them in.”
Schloth is skeptical there will be a football season without a change from the governor soon, but he is hopeful for volleyball. Multnomah County’s coronavirus rate is trending down and could allow games by the time the season starts.
The Monday OSAA meeting will discuss continued flexibility for schools, including parameters for out-of-season training while the sports seasons are going on. Another possibility will be allowing schools to petition to reschedule a sports season if it is prohibited by its county COVID-19 restrictions.
Weber does not expect OSAA to shift the season schedule again.
Hoyos-Diaz said this football season is likely a “deal breaker” on whether he gets to keep playing.
“It could be one of the last times I play,” he said. “I’m willing to risk it a little bit to get that feeling one more time.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA