High school sports programs have new possibilities for activities in the fall after the Oregon Health Authority issued updated guidance this week.
The OHA announced Tuesday that schools – whether they offer learning by distance or on-site – can allow their sports programs to participate in non-contact or minimum contact activities upon their re-opening date.
Last week, the OSAA announced changes to its 2020-21 calendar, opting for truncated winter, fall and spring seasons – in that order – with the first contests in January.
Previously, it was unknown if schools that provide only distance learning would be permitted to have sports/activities during the fall period from Aug. 31 to Dec. 27, dubbed Season 1 in the OSAA's plan.
With the OHA's announcement, though, schools with distance learning can participate in activities that are allowed under state guidance, provided their county is in a re-opening phase. Currently, Umatilla County is the only county that is not in a re-opening phase.
Mazama athletic director and football coach Vic Lease is encouraged by the new OHA guidance. He commended the OHA and OSAA for their efforts to engage students during the COVID-19 crisis.
“I truly believe they're looking at the social-emotional aspect of our kids,” Lease said. “It's not really about competition. It's about coaches needing athletes and athletes needing coaches right now. That's what we're trying to do.”
During the period between the opening of schools and Dec. 27, the OSAA waived out-of-season coaching limitations and created a potential opportunity for students to participate, at the discretion of local schools and districts.
According to the OHA guidance, schools with on-site and hybrid learning can allow indoor and outdoor practices and contests in all activities except those prohibited by the state. The same applies for schools with only distance learning, except they are not permitted to have indoor competitions.
Contact activities – football, basketball, wrestling, rugby, boys lacrosse and some forms of dance and cheer – are not permitted under state guidance. Among the modified activities that would be permitted are 7-on-7 football, provided it has no contact or protective equipment, and outdoor volleyball.
It's up to schools to determine their approach to Season 1. State athletic directors met virtually with OSAA staff Wednesday to gain clarification on the guidance and discuss their options.
In response to the OHA release, the OSAA has updated its list of frequently asked questions for its member schools, who are sorting through their options for the start of the 2020-21 year.
Until they open, schools must adhere to county phase requirements. Once they are open, OHA school guidance will take precedence over county guidance.
In counties under Phase 1 of re-opening, school programs potentially would have more options than recreational programs, which would remain bound to county guidelines. In Phase 2, the differences in restrictions between school and recreational programs are negligible.
The OSAA executive board has discussed implementing contest limits for Season 1, according to executive director Peter Weber.
Athletic departments throughout the state are digesting what this week's guidance means for them going forward. Vicki Nelms, athletic director at 6A Clackamas, is waiting to get direction from the North Clackamas School District next week.
“I think a bunch of us have plans ready to go, but we don't know what the district is going to do,” Nelms said. “I kind of get the feeling that everybody is waiting to see what everybody else is going to do. At North Clackamas, we're just in a holding pattern right now.”
Baker athletic director Buell Gonzales said that his school will divide Season 1 into three sub-seasons: fall (Sept. 7-Oct. 9), spring (Oct. 12-Nov. 13) and winter (Nov. 16-Dec. 18). It's the best plan, he said, considering how programs at the 4A school share athletes.
Other schools may follow suit.
“We would do something similar to that, if we get the OK,” Nelms said. “We would divide it up, so that our kids that are multi-sport athletes could do whatever with each group.”
Baker will be reserved in its overall approach, mindful of potential virus spread, according to Gonzales.
“I'm thinking that we'd probably just treat them like practices, as much as we can,” Gonzales said. “I'm leaning toward not playing competitions.
“Even though that may not be super popular, I really would like to have that ability to do competitions come the new year. I think anything that we could do could put that in jeopardy. Even if we were to get into hybrid or full in-person school.”
Gonzales said that if the health outlook improves in Baker County – which is in Phase 2 -- the school would consider competition against nearby schools. For now, though, he favors modified, in-house competitions at the end of each period.
Mazama will take a different tack, tapping into the recreational sports system in Klamath County, which is in Phase 2. Lease said Mazama's football program will align with Pop Warner, which has adapted to a full flag model, and other sports are looking to connect with local associations.
“We won't do it representing the school. We'll be a club model,” Lease said. “It'll be a whole separate entity that our kids will be allowed to participate in.”
In Pop Warner, Lease said, Mazama athletes will pay a registration fee that will cover liability and costs for officials. They will compete as the Viking Football Club in 7-on-7 contests against any other area high schools that choose to join the league. He is pitching the idea to nearby schools.
“We'll have a handful of teams from Mazama,” Lease said. “We'll have a varsity, JV and probably a freshman group. I've actually asked them to consider doing a lineman group.
“This is not an ideal situation for us because we're a running football team, a triple-option team. This is something so we can get our kids together and get them involved.”
Scappoose – a 5A school in Columbia County, which is in Phase 2 -- is scheduled to begin practices and workouts Sept. 1, but does not plan to have contests.
“Until we are allowed to go back to the hybrid model, which at this point would be Nov. 9, we would not be looking to have contests,” Scappoose athletic director Adam Strachan said. “I haven't talked to a school yet that is planning on having contests.”
Strachan said Scappoose will treat Season 1 like summer.
“We'll share athletes like we do every summer,” he said. “Our coaches do a good job of working well together and sharing athletes.”