Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted both adamantly stated during a COVID-19 update on Tuesday they want high school sports like football to play games this fall.
A decision on whether that will happen has yet to be made, but the governor’s office did announce cross country will be allowed to compete when its regular season begins later this month.
Cross country had previously been deemed a contact sport by the Ohio Department of Health, but Husted confirmed it has been redesignated as a non-contact sport. Non-contact fall sports — which also include golf, tennis and volleyball — were cleared by the state for regular competition in early June.
Contact fall sports like football and soccer are still waiting for the green light to play games.
“I know this is very, very frustrating, particularly to parents, but we don’t know exactly what is going to happen as we move forward,” DeWine said Tuesday during a press conference in Columbus. “We have been working, and Jon has specifically been working, with the OHSAA, working with coaches, to get this thing figured out.
“We have provided for the continuation of practice and other things that are normally done. What we’ve not done — and frankly, we want to get a little bit closer to the (start) date and see where this situation is with the COVID — we haven’t provided the final ‘go.’ …We want to get a little closer in time to that before making any kind of final decision.”
Official practice for all fall sports began Saturday. Most squads have been practicing since late June, as the OHSAA allowed most sports unlimited practice days this summer after a no-contact period was imposed on all sports from mid-March to late May.
Husted is leading the governor’s office’s efforts to come up with plans for contact sports to play. He said Tuesday he’s continuing talks with the OHSAA and coaches association groups on plans for contact sports to play.
“We’re trying to accommodate both the health and the practical considerations that must go into any decision for the athletes, coaches and fans,” Husted said. “We understand the uncertainty and the anticipation of that hopefully forthcoming new guidance in the near future.
“I can tell you as the governor alluded, I think there’s nobody in Ohio that wants to get this accomplished more than I do. We are working thoughtfully though to make sure we get these plans accomplished in the right way.”
DeWine and Husted also addressed confusion that was apparent from some on social media about a month-old ODH order that permits contact sports to play if every player on each team involved with a game tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of the start of each contest.
DeWine renewed the order on Saturday, and some took to social media over the weekend and complained high schools can’t afford such massive testing programs.
“There has been some confusion about this, in that the renewal of the order somehow represents the plan for return to play this fall (for high school),” Husted said. “I want you to know that’s not the case. That’s not the case. We’re still working with the OHSAA to finalize (a return to play) plan (for contact sports). We’re still considering many options, because we want student-athletes to return to play.”
DeWine confirmed Tuesday the order isn’t designed for high school or youth sports.
“We just continued the old order,” DeWine said. “… When or if you’re trying to keep COVID out someplace, or outside a particular group, the more testing you can do, the better.
“We don’t have the ability to do that kind of mass testing today. …We don’t have the capability of that today so it’s simply not on the table to do that all.”
About two dozen school districts throughout Ohio have suspended all fall sports. Nationally, athletic associations in 32 states have postponed the start of fall sports. Ten states (including Illinois) have postponed fall sports to 2021.
“All eight of (my) children have been involved with sports in school and our grandchildren have been involved in sports,” DeWine said. “We understand how very, very important sports is to children.
“… (There are) tremendous advantages in regard to sports. There’s a great frustration among parents today about uncertainty about school and uncertainty about sports. That is something that is frustrating to me.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.