Questions remain after OHSAA offers return-to-play guidelines for fall sports

MICHAEL BEAVEN
Akron Beacon Journal

The Ohio High School Athletic Association is planning to move forward with fall sports in 2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has school districts across the state trying to determine how to educate their students when classes resume next month.

Tim Tyrrell, the Archbishop Hoban athletic director and football coach, reviewed a 22-page document released Wednesday by OHSAA with guidelines and recommendations for all 10 fall sports.

The objective is to have a safe return for athletics, but Tyrrell said he knows the logistics are going to be difficult.

“I think if this is done correctly, then it is good,” Tyrrell said. “The scary part is that there is so much. Speaking as the athletic director, there is so much that is in there that I don’t know if it is possible. If you have been doing it long enough all summer the right way, and you have been practicing those things, it will be a little bit easier.

“My staff and I in athletics were going over things this morning. In a normal fall day you will have a girls soccer game going on and a girls volleyball going on. How do clean the gym? Who do you let in to watch, if you let anybody in? How are you taking temperatures of fans and family members and keeping everything clean? How are you scanning the officials and making sure they are OK?

“And then you worry about the athletes. Are they sitting far enough apart when they are not playing? There is so much that is going on. If it is one sport per day where you have a game, you can handle that, but there are so many things in the fall that are going on. You could have a golf match going on, a tennis match, a volleyball match and a home soccer match. We just looked at our schedule and we have all four things going on at certain times, and everybody does.

“That is the sticking point, where everything looks good when you look at it per sport, but what happens when you have four sports at the same time? And then you add in that the football team is practicing on that day and so are the cross country and tennis teams. You are taking their temperatures too.”

Conversations between superintendents, principals and teachers are ongoing to determine whether online or in-person classes, or a mixture of the two options, is the best route to take during a time when COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise in Ohio and pop up all over the United States.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a statewide mandate on Wednesday for people to wear masks in public starting at 6 p.m. Thursday and for people who travel to certain states with higher than average cases of COVID-19 to self-quarantine for 14 days upon returning home.

The OHSAA Executive Director’s Office said in the document it received feedback from its Board of Directors, the Ohio Joint Advisory Committee on Sports Medicine and the National Federation of State High School Associations. The document offered “recommendations on how our member schools can consider approaching the many components of 'opening up' sports with the objective of commencing the fall sports seasons on August 1, 2020.

“The OHSAA fully intends to support its member schools and the student-athletes who desire to compete in interscholastic athletics and will continue to assess all areas as more information becomes available.”

The OHSAA stressed the importance of proper social distancing (six feet) and the use of masks when not competing to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Athletes are encouraged to bring their own water.

“While the science about COVID-19 is evolving, it will be important to remain vigilant and nimble to respond to new developments,” the OHSAA said in the document. “Students and their families, along with school personnel, must recognize these risks and implement best practices to reasonably mitigate these risks. Participation in school activities is voluntary and every individual will need to evaluate the risk versus the benefits of athletics participation. Those immunocompromised students and staff, or those who live with family members with elevated health concerns, should evaluate associated risks of participation and may choose not to participate.”

The OHSAA offered several recommendations, including designing and implementing daily screening protocols for each school, adhering to physical distancing guidelines, not sharing food, drinks, water bottles, clothing, towels or other personal items and washing hands or using hand sanitizer upon entering and exiting weight and training room areas.

Game balls and other exercise equipment are expected to be sanitized often. Bench areas should be expanded, and locker rooms and shower areas should be avoided, if possible, to not allow germs to spread.

The OHSAA is also asking that there be no hugging, shaking hands, high fives or fist bumps, and that there be no congregating after competitions.

Additionally, the OHSAA compiled documents with specific guidelines that are two to three pages for each fall sport – cross country, field hockey, football, golf, soccer, tennis and volleyball.

“There are still a lot of questions that will hopefully be answered here in the next week,” Tyrrell said. “We are supposed to be starting next Saturday. ... The OHSAA has been great and the OHSFCA has been great. I like the proposals and plans, but we don’t know if they have been approved.”

The OHSAA is asking cross country meet officials to consider using staggered, wave or interval starts, and to widen a course to at least six feet at its narrowest point.

Woodridge cross country and track and field coach Jeff Howard said the guidelines were “soft as far as maybe, could be, possibility, recommended.”

“The first OHSAA event since the shutdown will be on Aug. 15, the preseason cross country invitational,” Howard said. “They are getting the course ready down at Fortress Obetz, so I know that they are talking about a lot more specific things. Things like the size of the starting boxes, the space between the starting boxes and finishing procedures. That kind of stuff needs to be hammered out.”

Howard also said the usual large invitationals on Saturdays should feature a smaller number of teams and runners this year.

“Managing race sizes, I think is critical,” he said. “... I am concerned about the details. I think Dale Gabor, who is our OHSAA liaison for cross country and track and field, and the other folks he is working with will have some more concrete things that can be used to help keep everyone involved safe.”

In volleyball, the protocol of switching benches and courts between sets would be suspended to observe social distancing protocols.