Area tracks and baseball and softball fields will be bare the next three weeks — and maybe longer.
As coronavirus continues to spread throughout the nation, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced on Friday it was imposing a mandatory no-contact period between coaches and players from March 17 through April 5.
There will be no spring sports activities until at least April 6 as a result. The ban also extends to all sports, meaning coaches from a different sports season can’t so much as supervise a conditioning program during the period.
The move is the latest in a busy week for the association, which has implemented measures on behest of Governor Mike DeWine to try and limit the spread of COVID-19. There were 13 confirmed cases of the virus in Ohio as of Friday afternoon, though Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton estimated Thursday 100,000 people in the state could already be infected.
DeWine issued an executive order on Thursday banning mass gatherings of 100 or more people, which effectively renders any sporting event impossible.
The OHSAA stopped short of matching the NCAA’s move on Thursday to cancel spring sports. Sidney athletic director Mitch Hoying is happy with the OHSAA’s caution in outright canceling the season.
“I think it’s very important that we try to play a portion of the season,” Hoying said. “We want to make sure it’s safe for everyone involved for things to be played but we don’t want to prematurely cut off the opportunity to those athletes if it (does become safe).”
The no-contact period coincides with DeWine’s Thursday order to have all school buildings shut down during the same period.
If the virus subsides and the no-contact ban is lifted after April 5, practice can resume the following day and games will be allowed to begin on April 11.
Those plans were stressed as tentative in an email to school administrators on Friday: “Since the current situation is rapidly changing, any of these may need to be adjusted. IF (sic) they are, notification will go out immediately to schools.”
Jackson Center athletic director Scott Elchert said spring sports teams playing at least an abbreviated schedule is important, especially for current seniors. He has firsthand knowledge of that; Elchert’s son Christopher is a senior and three-year baseball letterwinner.
“I think it’s real important,” Elchert said. “I’m a firm believer in athletics. It’s such a good educational experience. The seniors work very hard at it for years and years, so any games they can get is great.”
“… I’m glad with what they’ve done. Let’s take some time to digest everything fully before we make final decisions.”
Hoying said Sidney’s athletes have taken the announcement well but echoed Elchert’s hope seniors will be able to take the field again.
“We want to be able to have something for those athletes,” Hoying said. “Your senior year is the culmination of your career and all your hard work. They’ve put in a lot of time and effort and that would be very difficult to have it taken away.”
The OHSAA is still planning to hold state softball, track and baseball tournaments as scheduled in late May and early June.
Even if spring sports are further delayed, abbreviated seasons could still take place. Hoying said there has been discussion of tournaments also being postponed until later in June if needed but said there’s far from any official decision on that.
“We’re all still flying by the seat of our pants on this,” Hoying said. “Having the tournament later would open up a box of other issues with summer ball and things like that, but I think it’s a possibility and could be done.”
The OHSAA also stressed in its email to schools that its non-interscholastic rule is applicable to all athletes. The rule forbids athletes to participate in recreational leagues, AAU teams or similar if they’ve already participated in a scrimmage or contest for the school team in that sport.
The OHSAA also encouraged schools to cancel any out-of-state spring sports trips, though it noted in its email refunds for trips cannot be issued issued in some cases. In that event the organization said participating in out-of-state events is permissible and encouraged schools to follow Acton’s guidelines regarding the number of people attending an event.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.