High school football teams will be allowed to kick off later this month.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced the governor’s office and Ohio Department of Health will issue a new order later this week that will allow all prep fall sports teams to play games.
The order, which DeWine said was designed specifically to pave the way for high school and youth organizations to play, will go into effect Friday.
The order will allow sports like football and soccer to play games. Those sports were deemed contact sports by the state government and hadn’t been cleared for competition, though they had been cleared for practices and training activities. All other fall sports had previously been cleared for competition.
“Our order provides what we hope is the best guidance to play sports as safely as they can be played in the era of COVID-19,” DeWine said during a news conference on Tuesday. “Our order will provide (the opportunity for) all fall sports to go on this fall, both contact and non-contact sports. We will lay out exactly the road map and what has to be done to make sure it’s as safe as possible.”
DeWine said the order has not been finalized but should be wrapped up and issued Wednesday.
While he didn’t offer many specifics about what will be regulated in the order, DeWine said there will be restrictions on spectators at athletic events, likely limiting crowds only to parents and family members of participants.
“You’ll see when the order comes out that we will not have spectators other than family members and people very close to that particular child,” DeWine said. “We’ll leave that up to the school on how to do that.
“… We’ll have more details on (spectator restrictions) when the order is actually issued. But that’s the basic underpinning in regards to spectators.”
The order will also allow school districts that wish to postpone fall sports to spring to be able to do so.
In recent weeks, health departments and school districts in Stark and Cuyahoga Counties have publically encouraged DeWine and Ohio High School Athletic Association personnel to postpone all or some fall sports to spring.
“Lt. Gov. (Jon Husted) and I have had conversations with the OHSAA, and (the OHSAA) has given the go-ahead for schools that want to do that to move to the spring,” DeWine said. “… Our goal is to focus on the student and focus on the school and provide them the best opportunity they can to participate.
“No one can guess what the future’s going to be. We don’t know frankly what the situation’s going to be or how far into the season we’ll be able to get or if we can get all the way into the season. Nor can we predict if things are going to be better when it comes time to play these things in the spring. But this order simply allows sports to move forward.”
About two dozen school districts across the state have postponed or suspended extracurricular activities this month, including Dayton Public Schools.
“For the schools that have already have made the decision not to play this fall, we don’t want to exclude those children, either,” DeWine said. “We want to give them the hope and the opportunity to have a season.”
DeWine repeatedly stated the order is contingent on the spread of COVID-19 being limited across the state and said if there’s a serious surge, he could intervene and restrict sporting events.
While the number of new coronavirus cases continues to decline statewide from a peak set earlier this month, the upper Miami Valley area is seeing a surge. Shelby County is among the top 10 counties for highest occurrence of new coronavirus cases in the last two weeks, in addition to Mercer, Darke, Auglaize and Champaign County.
“It’s a risk. Going back to school is a risk. But we also know we want our kids back in school,” DeWine said. “We want our kids to play sports, but we also know that’s a risk. If this doesn’t work, schools are going to know that pretty quick. Coaches are going to know that pretty quick.
“… We stand ready, quite candidly, that if this goes the wrong way, to shut it all down. …If it goes off the rails, don’t doubt that we’ll step in.
“… If you’re a community with widespread COVID spread, you’ve got to think long and hard about having contact sports in the fall. We’re not going to tell them not to do it, but that is part of the process. Whatever’s going on in your community, it will be in your school. Whatever’s going on in your school, it will be in those athletes.”
“… That’s why we continue to talk about the importance for communities that if they want their kids back in school, they need to wear the mask, cut the distance, keep the spread down.”
DeWine closed his opening statement in Tuesday’s news conference by saying he’s hopeful sports will help keep students in Ohio maintain safety protocols at all times.
“Our hope is coaches will use this as an opportunity to help these young people understand what really is at stake,” DeWine said. “If they’re going to be able to play whatever sport they want to play …they’re going to have to do everything they can to keep COVID out of their team. …I think that desire to have a season certainly has the potential to more than compensate for the added danger that is there.”
Ohio will be one of few states with all fall sports starting as scheduled. Thirty-six states have postponed the start of fall sports to various degrees. Fifteen states (including Michigan) have postponed football to spring.
“Sports is about a lot of things, but one of the things it’s about is hope. It doesn’t matter what sport it is; hope springs eternal when you start,” DeWine said.
“But hope itself is not a plan; it’s not strategy. We all should have hope, but we also should have a plan. So we would ask those that are making the decision to play …look at the plan we have and try the best you can to execute that.”
Boys and girls golf squads and girls tennis were allowed by the OHSAA to start earlier this month. Volleyball is scheduled to begin Friday and cross country is scheduled to begin next week. Those sports were declared non-contact by the state government, which granted sports in that category permission for competitions in June.
Boys and girls soccer is scheduled by the OHSAA to begin Friday. Football is scheduled to kick off next week.
Reach Bryant Billing at 937-538-4818, or follow @SidneyOHSports on Twitter and @BryantBillingSDN on Facebook.