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With conditioning getting underway, there are far more questions than answers

PMG FILE PHOTO - Forest Grove's Cameron Bennett made some big plays during his senior year in 2019-20, but whether the Vikings will play this fall remains to be seen.Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, NASCAR is doing its thing.

Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are preparing to do theirs.

Colleges across the country are making plans — at least tentative ones — too.

For Oregon, however, the questions remains — will there be high school sports this fall?

Thus far, no one really knows for sure, but teams and athletes are moving forward in preparation for the fall, with most already beginning (or soon to begin) summer conditioning and individual skill work.

But will they actually get to play? Three athletic directors from three different Class 6A leagues offer their opinions.

"Yeah, I do think that we will have fall sports," said Lakeridge's Nathan Stanley, whose Pacers play in the Three Rivers League (and Special District 5 for football). "I just don't know what that's going to look like, and I don't think anyone does."

"That's such an unknown right now," said Forest Grove's Doug Thompson, whose Vikings play in the Pacific Conference (and in Class 5A's Special District 2 for football). "My thought is we will start some type of practice mode, and it could be (that's) as far as we get. … My hunch says everything's going to be delayed … and then we'll get kids back to school and see what the (COVID-19) numbers do and see if we can do things safely."

"There's a lot of hope, and I think we will play," said Sunset's Pete Lukich, whose Apollos play in the Metro League (and in Special District 2 for football). He added that high schools will benefit from the lessons being learned in professional and college sports, and from there, "There's hope and optimism. It's early. We just need to make the decision properly."

What's happening now

In high schools across the state and at all classifications, athletes are beginning (or will soon begin) summer conditioning and individual skill work at their schools. While that is a normal part of the summer routine for high school athletes, there's nothing normal or routine about this summer.

For schools in counties operating under Oregon's Phase 1 reopening guidelines, here's a snapshot of the limitations that impact those workouts.

Phase 1 reopening guidance sets the following conditions: face coverings are recommended; gatherings are limited to no more than 25 people, and within those gatherings, athletes must work within cohorts/pods of 10 students or less; schools are allowed to have multiple gatherings on their campus provided that physical distancing is maintained; coaches may use classrooms for instruction of 10 students or less, dependent on the size of the room and the ability to maintain physical distancing; and temperature checks are recommended for pre-screening purposes.

For counties operating under Phase 2 reopening guidelines, the following conditions are in place: Pods should stay in place for at least a week, and longer if possible to limit overall exposure; gatherings are allowed for no more than 50 people at a time indoors or 100 outdoors in a single facility/field; multi-sport athletes are allowed to be in different pods for different sports (but it is recommended that they don't participate in multiple sports on the same day for the first two weeks back to workouts/practice for acclimatization purposes); coaches may work as a "floater" between pods, but more for management than direct coaching (coaches should limit their interaction with multiple pods if possible).

"For Phase 1, it's just speed, strength and quickness. That's it. There's not a whole lot of sports-specific stuff that you can do," Stanley said. "A kid could shoot on a hoop (or) throw a lacrosse ball against the wall, but there's no sharing of equipment. So you can't throw a ball from one person to another."

"You can't share a ball with somebody. ... It's all individual skills and conditioning, strength and agility, etc.," Lukich said. "What's great is you get the student athletes out there so they're able to have communication with the coach, so that they can be around their friends, so they can get physical exercise away from what their normal routine probably has been."

"Kids will have their own ball that's personally checked out to them in their in their group and then, after it's over, coaches will spray off those balls and they'll dry," Thompson said.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Sunset and Tigard football teams are among 100s across the state waiting to see if there will be a high school season in 2020-21.

What happens if …

If an athlete or a coach suspects they might be sick or shows symptoms that might indicate COVID-19, the Oregon School Activities directs the following response:

"Schools must continue to monitor athletes for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 prior to workouts. Emphasize to athletes and coaches not to attend workouts if they are ill. If an athlete or coach has a fever or other symptoms of COVID-19, they must be sent home. It is strongly recommended that they be tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to workouts.

Any athlete testing positive for COVID-19 must not return to physical activity for at least two weeks AFTER symptoms have resolved AND must be cleared for participation by their primary care provider. The county health department should initiate contact tracing and recommend further testing and any need for quarantine. In the event that multiple athletes participating in workouts develop COVID-19, the OSAA SMAC highly recommends workouts in that activity be suspended for at least two weeks and that the school consults with the local health department to discuss timing and procedures prior to reinitiating workouts."

What they're saying

Despite all the precautions to prevent infections and the systems in place to respond to them, there is hardly consensus among parents on the return of high school sports.

"Obviously, everyone is eager to get back to play, and we have a lot of people that are advocating in the community and around the state for kids to be able to participate in something this fall," Stanley said. "We also have people that are very cautious. We had one parent that emailed saying that … she was going to hold (her son) home another two weeks just to see how things are going."

"We're all passionate about kids participating in athletics, obviously — that's our job — but we also have to read and look at the science," Thompson said. "My community, from what I've heard, they're excited to do this cohort of 10. I haven't heard any negatives — you know, 'What are you doing? Why would you do this?' I haven't heard any of that yet. But I'm sure it's there. … That's why we've done it slow."

Challenges lie ahead

In any case, everyone knows that there will be challenges on the road ahead. Seven members of the Newberg summer baseball team (along with their coach) reported COVID-19 infections back on July 3.

On Monday, July 13, there were social media reports that football and lacrosse conditioning at Lakeridge had been shut down due to potential infections.

So what about it? Will there be high school sports in the fall?

"I think we'll just have to see based on what our numbers do ... until the start of fall sports practices on August 17," Thompson said. "So yeah, that's a great question. I'd like to know the answer to it, too."

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