When the Oregon School Activities Association’s executive board announced this week it was still planning a fall sports season if it’s possible to do safely, it was welcome news to the Bay Area’s two athletic directors.
OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber sent out an update at the end of the board’s three-day online meeting this week.
“The OSAA Executive Board remains committed to providing school sports and activities opportunities for students this fall provided it’s safe to do so and within the parameters set by the Governor’s Office, Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education,” Weber wrote, noting that OSAA and its 290-plus member schools are bound to work within those parameters.
The newest update from OSAA came one day after Washington announced it won’t start sports until January and two days after California announced it will delay activities until December and split them into two seasons.
“I like the fact that we are still keeping things on the table,” North Bend athletic director Mike Forrester said. “I know that there are a number of people that feel like the OSAA should just make a decision, but I feel like things are going to change between now and the start of school anyway.”
“One thing that is really important to point out is that the board is committed to working to exhaust every option,” added Marshfield athletic director Greg Mulkey.
The Executive Board will meet again Aug. 3 to continue its discussions, Weber said.
He noted that OSAA has received countless emails advocating the safe return of school sports and activities.
“The OSAA Executive Board and staff share the passion and desire expressed by this communication and have bene advocating with the Governor’s Office accordingly,” Weber wrote. “Just as schools will not look the same in the fall of 2020, it’s clear that school sports and activities will not either. It’s important to remember that any participation that can be done safely is a positive step forward for the physical health and mental well-being of students and their communities.”
The Executive Board did decide to push back the start of the fall season, with the first contests for volleyball, soccer and cross country now slated for Sept. 23, and there is no timeline for a return for football. The start of fall practice for volleyball, soccer and cross country remains Aug. 17.
“New guidance from the state requiring face coverings even when exercising indoors will require further consideration regarding guidance for indoor activities,” Weber wrote. “These dates allow for local school control regarding fall practice schedules while enabling them to focus on their primary objective of reopening to students.”
Both Forrester and Mulkey applauded the decision to push back the season.
“I really like the fact that they delayed games until the 23rd because it does give us a chance to get kids back in school and establish a routine before we start pulling kids back out of class and playing,” Forrester said.
Mulkey said that while many of Marshfield’s teams have been practicing through the summer in some form, they now will take at least some break to make sure the kids don’t get burnt out before the season starts.
“All of our coaches were 100 percent on board they are going to take a week or two off from this point to that start date,” he said.
Football, as well as cheerleading and dance, is currently prohibited because of the contact nature of the sports, though OSAA is hoping to receive clarification from the state about what might be allowable for cheerleading and dance.
Weber did say teams will not be allowed to hold multiple practices.
In what Mulkey considers to be another big decision, the Executive Board said it would determine eligibility by the last semester before the pandemic struck, which is significant since distance learning didn’t work well for some students.
“The academic piece is a nice piece,” he said of how OSAA will rule on who is eligible to participate.
Questions still remain about what seasons might look like — if sports will be kept regional as much as possible with North Bend and Marshfield playing other South Coast schools and not their league foes in some sports.
“Every schedule in the state is no good now,” Forrester said, adding that he will try to schedule as many North Bend games on Saturdays as possible so kids don’t miss school.
And there is always a chance OSAA could push all sports into 2021, like Washington and California have done.
One option with that would be stacking seasons on top of each other that aren’t traditionally held at the same time.
“I am not in favor of stacking seasons,” Mulkey said. “If you move football to the spring and also have track and golf and baseball, that is almost impossible for schools that share athletes for all those sports. Now you are forcing kids to make a decision.”
Another option might be flopping the seasons and bringing spring sports that lend themselves to social distancing into the fall.
“Golf, tennis, baseball and softball, those are sports that can do a pretty good job maintaining the six-foot distance,” Mulkey said. “If that’s what it comes down to, it’s maybe the best option.”
He noted, though, that plan comes with a major risk. If the decision is made to move the sports and then the fall season is canceled anyway because of the ongoing pandemic, athletes will have lost two complete seasons in those sports.
“That’s a real delicate conversation we have to make,” Mulkey said.
For now, there is optimism but more waiting.
“We’re hoping on Aug. 3 they are going to have a little more definite idea what we’re going to do,” Mulkey said.