As high school sports’ Aug. 1 date for the official start of preseason draws ever closer, plenty of questions still remain as Ohio continues to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tuesday night, the Ohio High School Athletic Association answered a big one.
Preseason scrimmages between teams from different schools were officially suspended for the four fall sports designated “contact” sports — football, soccer, cross country and field hockey — said OHSAA Interim Executive Director Bob Goldring in a communication to member schools, even as the association remains “on track” to begin practices in all of its fall sports on Saturday.
As of the OHSAA’s July 24 update, scrimmages were to be permitted in football, soccer and field hockey after practice began, with football getting two scrimmages, soccer getting four and field hockey five. But Tuesday’s update changed that.
“We are waiting for more guidance from the governor’s office and Department of Health on when school vs. school competition can begin and are hopeful of that permission being granted for our normal contest dates later in August,” Goldring said. “To that end, school vs. school scrimmages are suspended. We do not anticipate that suspension changing soon, and there remains the possibility that no scrimmages will be permitted in the contact sports of football, soccer and field hockey. We will certainly keep you updated if that changes.”
Goldring did say, though, that the OHSAA is trying to get cross country and field hockey’s designations changed to low- or non-contact. The fall sports currently with that designation are golf, girls tennis and volleyball.
“We continue to have conversations regarding the status of field hockey and/or cross country being placed into the low/non-contact category,” he said. “Again, we will certainly keep you updated if that changes for either or both sports.”
The OHSAA’s competition has been dormant since early March, when the winter sports postseason tournaments were postponed and then eventually canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The spring sports season soon followed, and though practices and workouts were allowed to resume in late May, the renewed spread of the virus after, among other factors, the reopening of select businesses in June and holiday parties throughout June and July has cast fall sports’ fate into doubt once more.
And while guidelines are in place to help limit the spread of the virus, a pattern has formed where tougher restrictions are put in place after those guidelines are not followed.
One week, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine encouraged people to wear masks or face covering while in public to help limit the spread. The next week, it was a mandate. And last week, DeWine stated that county fairs needed to follow the state’s guidelines. But Tuesday, he was forced to limit the state’s remaining county fairs to junior fairs after guidelines were not followed at some fairs around the state, allowing the virus to spread.
The OHSAA wants to make sure that its fall athletes don’t end up paying for everyone else’s choices, too.
“Our discussions with the governor’s office are clear — if we want our student-athletes to learn the lifelong lessons and receive the social, emotional and physical benefits that the privilege of participating in education-based interscholastic athletics programs provide, we all have to be accountable for following all mandates and requirements,” Goldring said. “By not following the mandates and requirements, we are putting our student-athletes at risk of not only contracting and/or spreading COVID-19 but also at risk of losing the season for themselves, their families, their teammates, their schools and their communities. Mandates and requirements put into place must be followed in order for the governor’s office to continue to allow us to participate.”
Since early July, the OHSAA has participated in the “I Want a Season” social media campaign, encouraging its student-athletes to use their social media accounts with the hashtag #IWantASeason to encourage others to use practices like social distancing and wearing facemasks to help ensure that fall sports would take place.
And finally, in the Tuesday communication, Goldring said that the OHSAA is still working to finalize gameday requirements once contests are able to begin that are “to be strictly enforced.”
“Our administrators, coaches and student-athletes will be held accountable for non-compliance,” Goldring said. “So as not to cause alarm, these mandates and requirements will be to elevate many of the recommendations that were provided in the ‘OHSAA Return to Play Recommendations’ document to the level of mandates and requirements and should not require wholesale modifications to your gameday protocol.”
The official preseason for all of the OHSAA’s fall sports begins on Saturday, with the boys and girls golf seasons set to begin on Aug. 5 and girls tennis on Aug. 7.