The sound of basketballs thumping off the basketball court are a welcomed sound at gymnasiums across Ohio, including Sidney High School. After months of inactivity following restrictions to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, school facilities are returning to action.
Sidney recently held its first basketball skills session (scrimmages and games are not permitted) after the Responsible Restart Ohio program allowed for them to resume on May 26. Sidney athletic director Mitch Hoying said the turnout was impressive.
“It’s quite clear kids are ready to either be a part of sports or be a part of things their friends are a part of,” Hoying said.
Guidelines must be followed such as six feet of spacing between participants; a no-touch rule discouraging high fives, huddles or close contact; no congregating before or after skills sessions; and no spectators except for parents or guardians, who must also maintain social distancing.
Among other SHS-imposed guidelines, students must bring their own water and there is no sharing of basketballs or equipment. As for the weight room policy, students are placed in groups of 3-5. If a student misses a session they are not permitted to join another group.
“Having kids on campus is huge. Schools are a hub for young people to not only compete in sports, but the social aspect,” Hoying said. “Learning how to be responsible. Being where you’re supposed to be. Now there’s even more responsibility. You have to bring your own water. You have to your own lifting session. … Let’s control what we can do and get ready (for the fall).”
Hoying doesn’t anticipate COVID-19 having the same impact on fall sports as it did in the spring. Ohio High School Athletic Association state championships were canceled for girls basketball and wrestling. OHSAA regional and state championships were canceled for boys basketball.
“I fully expect there to be fall seasons. I expect us to play full schedules,” Hoying said. “I do think there are going to be social distancing requirements that the state or local health departments are going to implement. I really think, speaking on the half of Sidney’s facilities, I think our facilities can handle social distancing when you relate it to the average crowd size.”
The outdoor fall sports of cross country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer and girls tennis can better accommodate social distancing. In addition to spreading out in bleachers spectators can stand along fences and bring their own chairs. As for volleyball, the lone indoor sport, Hoying said bleachers on both sides of the gym — not just one side in past seasons — can be utilized.
Minster AD Josh Clune said the cancelation of spring sports did not have an adverse effect on the district’s athletic budget. Most spring sports do not charge admission, with track and field the lone exception.
“Spring sports don’t bring in much income just because we don’t charge at baseball or softball games,” Clune said. “We only host four or five track meets a year. Quite honestly, from a financial standpoint we’re ahead of where we normally would be. Just because of the expenses of umpires, travel, tournament expenses and those things.”
Had sports been allowed to resume on May 1, Clune said the Midwest Athletic Conference planned on playing league games only but not crowning league champions. School and league officials did not want to put additional pressure on coaches — and especially how they used their pitching staffs — with every game an important MAC game.
“I can’t say if it was the right call or the wrong call,” Clune said of Gov. Mike DeWine’s decision to shut down school buildings in March, and in turn, compel the Ohio High School Athletic Association to cancel spring sports on April 20. “The governor and the OHSAA did their best trying to give us guidelines. With something nobody has ever dealt with there’s always questions. Not knowing week to week … that’s what made it difficult. We held out hope as long as we could.
“Every person has a little bit of a different idea how this should be handled. I think everybody has been very respectful of the decisions that have been made. I think it’s important for everyone to try and stay safe. Our coaches have been really good about following the rules and guidelines. They would rather lose a little in May or June if that means we can be back in August.”
Added Hoying: “It was tough for our leaders to make that decision. I think based on the information we had at the time it was probably the right thing to do. Again, disappointment for everybody here. But when you look at the bigger picture – when people are losing their jobs, the economy is in the tank – when schools were not in session it wasn’t right to play sports. You can’t say anybody was wrong in any of their decisions. … It was unfortunate kids missed out on things. I wish it were different. In hindsight, at the time what was done needed to be done.”
No announcement has been made by the OHSAA on fall sports and possible restrictions.
“COVID-19 had a definitive negative effect on our spring sports in terms of the kids and our families who lost out on opportunities that aren’t coming back,” Hoying said. “COVID-19 is going to have a detrimental effect on the athletic department’s budget. How big that is will be more dictated by what happens during the fall by social distancing at games, or anything like that, than anything that happened in the spring.
“When you drive by the high school it’s going to look like we’re back in business. I think that’s something everybody is excited about.”