Like a volleyball or tennis match, the first weekend in August was a back-and-forth one for Ohio high school fall sports. Shortly after the OHSAA reaffirmed all fall sports can begin practice, it again reiterated ‘contact sports’ cannot scrimmage or play games, despite rumors to the contrary swirling due to an Ohio Department of Health order that was renewed over the weekend.
While official preseason practice for fall sports began Saturday (save for the dozens of school districts statewide which have cancelled or delayed their extra-curricular activities in response to the coronavirus threat), meetings — and possibly decisions — into Monday afternoon were taking place, as the true fate of all the OHSAA’s fall sports still rests with Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
After the weekend flurry of communications, there was nothing new as far as seismic developments, as the OHSAA on Friday — as it has repeatedly — reaffirmed fall sports could start practice as planned.
Then came a flurry of unfounded rumors.
DeWine signed an extension of an ODH order on Saturday night that makes it nearly impossible for high school or youth ‘contact sports’ to play games. Social media speculation flew afterwards due to some incorrectly believing the order allowed for contact sports games to take place.
The original order — which was originally issued for 10 days during July to allow The Basketball Tournament to take place at Nationwide Arena in Columbus — initially expired July 15, but has now twice been extended with no new expiration date.
The order allows for practices in all sports but play between teams is permitted only for what the ODH defines as “low contact” and “non contact” sports, including OHSAA fall sports girls tennis, volleyball and golf.
The OHSAA is allowing golf matches to take place starting Wednesday, while the first girls tennis matches can take place beginning Friday. After an allowable five scrimmages and one permitted preview, volleyball’s first contest can take place on Aug. 21.
Cross country, in the ODH extended order, is no longer classified as a “full contact sport” — but the OHSAA said Sunday it was working to confirm the new designation.
While the OHSAA has allowed what the ODH defines as “full contact” sports to proceed with practices, competitions remains prohibited unless, according to the ODH order, “ALL (sic) teams comply with the requirements set forth in Section 10 of this Order so as to minimize the spread of COVID-19. This Order applies to both public and private activities and facilities.”
The order also states that if and when contact competition can resume, all players, coaches, athletic trainers, support staff and officials must have a COVID-19 test administered no more than 72 hours before competition and have a negative result in hand in order to participate.
That provides a realistic path for professional sports organizations and major college programs (like Ohio State) to conduct games. But as the OHSAA describes, it’s an unrealistic requirement for high schools, which would have to conduct dozens or hundreds of tests three days prior to every contact sports game.
In an memo sent to member schools on July 28, the OHSAA announced the immediate and indefinite suspension of all intersquad scrimmages and contests and stated it doesn’t anticipate that suspension being lifted any time soon.
The OHSAA, in response to social media buzz about Saturday’s reissued ODH order, posted a statement on Sunday which said in part “the OHSAA is working to confirm details with the Ohio Department of Health within the ‘Contact Sports Defined’ section based on the order signed by the ODH on Saturday, Aug. 1.
“The OHSAA continues to work with the Governor’s Office and the ODH regarding our requested modifications for high school sports regarding safety protocols and spectators.”
The association followed with a memo on Monday that states nothing has changed since the ODH order was first issued and the ban the OHSAA has imposed on scrimmages and games for contact sports remains unchanged.
On Friday, the OHSAA offered three contingency plans for its fall seasons:
• If contact sports are not approved for school vs. school competition by Friday, Sept. 4, fall contact sports and remaining winter and spring sports will move to a condensed schedule that will take place between mid‐December and the end of June. Fall non‐contact sports would move forward as scheduled.
• If the fall seasons begin and, for some reason, are stopped but then resume, the OHSAA has plans to move to a modified fall sports season.
• If contact sports are approved for school vs. school competition, the OHSAA is prepared to set COVID‐19‐related requirements for schools to follow for competitions as requested by the Governor’s Office. The OHSAA will govern and issue consequences for the violation of these requirements as prescribed in OHSAA Bylaw 11, Penalties.
Other guidelines of the ODH order include conducting daily symptom assessments, mandatory wearing of face coverings for athletic trainers, coaches and officials, strict social distancing rules for players who are not actively engaged in practice or in in-game competition and immediate isolation and medical care for individuals which develop coronavirus symptoms.
While most of the state presently presses on, some Ohio high school programs — including some of the larger districts in the larger cities — have either cancelled fall sports, or have delayed them until at least Oct. 1.
Several have shut down within the last week, due to either positive cases of the coronavirus or fears of it spreading among student-athletes and coaches.
The Ohio High School Football Coaches Association is also working with Husted, regarding review of its 39-page proposal which was submitted to the state two weeks ago.
An originally scheduled Tuesday teleconference, which was to include OHSFCA and OHSAA representatives along with Husted, was moved up a day to Monday per an OHSFCA memo sent to members on Sunday.
That proposal covers, in great detail, the feasibility of playing this year.
DeWine will have, or is scheduled to have, another press briefing on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Sidney Daily News sports editor Bryant Billing contributed to this report. Billing can be reached at email@example.com.