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Fall sports pushed back to Sept. 23 start; football will have to wait for clearance for games

LON AUSTIN - Liz Barker works out during this summer's Crook County Cowgirl volleyball camp, hopeful that a full fall season will occur. The OSAA has delayed the start for games in all fall sports but football until Sept. 23. Football games will not occur unless pandemic rules prohibiting the full-contact sport are lifted.As I've talked to people around Crook and Jefferson counties recently, one of the biggest questions I've been asked is are we going to have high school sports?

The answer is that despite the fact that many teams are currently practicing and that the OSAA executive board met in a closed door session July 20-22, is we still don't know.

What we do know is that the situation is in flux, and is rapidly changing.

Iowa is in the process of concluding a state championship in baseball. They played the regular season this summer. At the same time California has already announced that they will not have any sports seasons until at least December and that football as well as some other fall sports will be moved to the spring.

Meanwhile, the Oregon Schools Activities Association held a three-day closed-door executive board meeting July 20-22. Several things came out of that meeting, but still no assurance of a fall sports season.

Following the meeting, the OSAA announced that start dates for contested volleyball, cross country and soccer events would be Sept. 23. It had previously been Aug. 27.

Football, meanwhile, is considered a full contact activity per the governor's and OHA guidelines and is currently prohibited. Controlled practices are allowed but no games. It was also put forth that unless rules prohibiting football are lifted by Sept. 28, there will be chance for a revised football season that would include post-season play.

OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber released an official statement following the meeting saying that the board continues to be committed to providing school sports and activities in the fall, as long as it is safe to do so and within the guidelines set by the Oregon Governor's Office, Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon Department of Education.

"During the past few weeks and months, we've received countless emails advocating for the safe return of school sports and activities," Weber said. "Just as schools will not look the same in the fall of 2020, it's clear that school sports and activities will not either. It's important to remember that any participation that can be done safely is a positive step forward for the physical health and mental well-being of students and their communities."

LOCAL PROGRAMS

Prep athletic programs in both Prineville and Madras have been doing summer workouts since the two counties entered Phase 1 of the governor's reopening plan. Now that the two counties are in Phase 2 those workouts now include some team activities.

However, the athletic directors for both Crook County and the Jefferson County School districts have made it clear that there have been a lot of changes from past practices.

Both schools have required students and parents to sign a waiver form before being allowed to attend summer practices.

"One of the crazy things we've had is they had to sign a waiver to participate this summer and we had more than 180 kids sign that waiver," said Madras High School Athletic Director Evan Brown. "It just shows that our kids are clamoring for something to do. Who knows, I guess the proof is in the pudding, all I know is that our participation in these off-season workouts are higher than they've ever been."

Crook County athletic director Rob Bonner noted that Crook County is seeing high participation levels in summer workouts and that there seems to be more joy surrounding practice than in past years.

"All of our fall coaches are working with kids in some capacity," Bonner added. "Coaches sanitize equipment and facilities multiple times during a workout. Our athletes are following all the protocols from the Oregon Health Authority and the OSAA. The governor has directed all these things."

In both schools athletes are practicing in pods of 10 or fewer, with most teams keeping the same pods so that athletes are exposed to as few people as possible. All coaches at Madras High School are wearing masks, while coaches at indoor practices were wearing masks at Crook County High School.

As of Friday, restrictions tightened even further, with all players at both schools required to wear masks inside.

Crook County High School has purchased an ion sanitizing machine, which is being used currently for basketballs and volleyballs. Football equipment is currently being sanitized by hand, but the football program is expected to use the machine as well later in the year.

Madras is also taking extra precautions with sanitizing equipment. In addition players may only enter the gym through one door, and all players are staged in the parking lot until a coach calls for them to prevent players from congregating in close proximity to each other around doors or gates at practice facilities.

"When kids arrive they go through that questionnaire and they have to sanitize upon arrival," Brown said. "Most of our pods we are keeping under 10 just because if we've got a kid that hasn't been in before we can place him, or her, into a pod for that week. They are sanitizing throughout the workouts and they are bringing their own water bottles and not refilling them at the school. Whenever gear changes pods all that stuff is being sanitized and at the end of practice everything is sanitized again."

Custodial staff at both schools are also working hard to ensure that all door knobs, floors, access points etc., are sanitized.

Still, despite all the additional safety precautions no one really knows if there will be a fall season or not.

Even those activities that are scheduled to begin contests on Sept. 23 are still in jeopardy.

"That allows for some time to make those decisions and have those conversations," Weber said of delaying the start of fall contests. "And it allows schools to get reopened, in whatever format that looks like. We need to allow schools to focus on that as much as they can."

"I'm very much a realist," Brown said. "I was pretty optimistic up until the Pac-12 made their adjustments (including playing only an in-conference football schedule) and now it gets me thinking that maybe things may not be as well as I had hoped."

"I'm very hopeful that there is going to be fall sports," said Bonner. "The way things are up and down now, I'm very hopeful that there is going to be fall sports. Speaking with OSAA they expect to start August 17, on time, so I'm hopeful with that, but because things are so up in the air it's hard for me to envision things like full stands at a football game. I'm sure that they are going to limit, or do away with spectators at first."

Bonner added that he is not looking forward to restricting spectators at games, but would rather do that than have no athletics at all.

"I'm dreading that to be honest," he said of limiting spectators. "That's going to be a rough sell. It's going to be unfortunate, but our goal is to get athletes playing in the fall. So, if fans have to sit out, we will get creative with our livestreams. We will get creative. Good will come out of it. Kids will play and that's our goal."

Brown agreed that finding a way for athletes to participate is the big goal.

"I think pretty much all of the Central Oregon ADS stance is we don't really care if they have to limit the number of games, if they have to start the season late, just find a way to allow our kids to participate. Even if that's with no fans in the stands, then so be it. We just want to be able to find a way for our kids to be able to participate in some way. It may be modified. It may be later. It may be fewer contests. Whatever it is, please find a way for our kids to participate."

The OSAA Executive Board is scheduled to meet again starting on Monday, August 3.

Weber said that the goal at those meetings is to "exhaust all options" for having fall activities in the fall. "if that isn't possible the OSAA would consider options such as shifting seasons."

Regardless of when games will resume, summer practices are continuing at both schools.

Meanwhile, most Crook County teams are also practicing, with football and volleyball each Monday and Wednesday evening and cross country running at least three days a week in the morning. In addition, boys and girls soccer are doing a conditioning program, and there is a generic conditioning program at the track on Tuesday and Thursday morning that is open to all athletes regardless of sport.

"I want people to know how proud I am of the athletes and coaches who have chosen to get started as early as possible," Bonner said. "It would be easier for the coaches to just take this time off and say nah, everything is so up in the air that we are not going to do anything right now. We will get together as soon as we can. You know, that would have been easy, because it's a lot of work and our coaches every single one of them have stepped up to give opportunities to athletes. I know that our athletes are frustrated, but they are staying patient. They are allowing us to do what we have to do to keep everybody safe and I'm proud of our group of athletes and coaches."

"Whatever the OSAA and the state is game for we are game for," added Brown. "One of the things that we joked about a little bit is if we are not able to have football or soccer or volleyball or those kinds of things in the fall, we might have 200 kids out for cross country. You know we say that tongue in cheek and jokingly, but I think our kids are just clamoring for something to do and I think that may be somewhat more realistic than we think it is."


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