The waiting game continues for high school football fans.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said during a COVID-19 news conference on Thursday he will announce Tuesday if high school and youth contact sports will be allowed to play games this fall.
While not directly saying the state government will allow competition for contact sports like football, DeWine gave the strongest signal yet during Thursday’s press briefing that will happen.
The announcement of an imminent announcement is the most detailed timeline DeWine has given regarding contact sports. DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted have said many times during news conferences the last month plans and guidelines were being studied. DeWine said during a news conference Tuesday a plan would be announced soon.
DeWine said during Thursday’s news conference the state’s plan still needs to be finished this weekend. He said he’ll be calling coaches over the weekend to discuss details.
“We’ve been working with the Ohio High School Athletic Association to get it right, to provide guidelines to make it as safe as possible,” DeWine said. “I have a great deal of confidence in the coaches who are out there… to impress upon the athletes, young men and women, the importance of keeping a distance and being safe.
“It’s also important what young people do when they’re not playing, when they’re home, when they’re out and about. …We always look coaches for leadership, and in the era of coronavirus, leadership is probably their most important job this year.”
DeWine indicated the state government will permit contact sports and leave it up to individual school districts whether to play or not. About two dozen school districts statewide have suspended fall sports practices, including Dayton Public Schools and Trotwood-Madison.
DeWine said there will be restrictions on the number of spectators allowed at events.
“We want the athletes to compete, we want the young people to have their season,” DeWine said. “But we want to do it as safely as possible, so this will be disruptive for some people, but we want to make sure parents and people that mean a lot to that particular child have the opportunity to see them.
“For the rest of us, we’ll have to hear about the game, or maybe we’ll be able to pick it up on the internet.”
The Ohio Department of Health has reported at least 1,100 new COVID-19 cases for eight of the last 10 days. While DeWine said the state seems to be trending down compared to a surge in July, he said there are pockets of concern around the state, including Mercer County, which posted 123 new cases over a two-week period that ended Tuesday.
“What goes on in the school and what goes on in the community directly relates to what goes on in the community,” DeWine said. “If you want your son, if you want your daughter to play sports, if you want them to have any other extracurricular activities… the ability of that school to stay open and the ability of your children to play sports is directly dependent on what’s going on in the community.
“… We all need to be in this together. We want our kids to have that experience. But it won’t last unless we slow this coronavirus down.”
Non-contact fall sports — including cross country golf, tennis and volleyball — were cleared by the state government for regular competition in early June. High school boys and girls golf teams and girls tennis squads were permitted by the OHSAA to begin regular-season play last week.
Contact fall sports like football and soccer were permitted by the state government to practice beginning in late June. Most schools used the opportunity for offseason practices throughout July. The OHSAA allowed official preseason practice for all fall sports to start Aug. 1.
High school and youth organizations are still awaiting permission to play games. The state department of health issued an order in July (which has since been renewed twice) that paves the way for professional and major college contact sport programs to play games. DeWine said last week that order wasn’t designed for school or youth sports.
A judge in Warren County granted a preliminary injunction in a suit over the state’s rules over treating non-contact sports and contact sports differently. The injunction allows contact sports to play in that county. DeWine said the state is appealing.
“This is different than allowing high school athletes to play,” DeWine said. “This is bringing a lot of athletes in, many from out of the state, who will stay the weekend and play a number of games with different teams.
“… That is just not a good idea. I don’t know anybody who thinks that’s a good idea from a public health point of view as far as the spread of the coronavirus.”
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.