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Many COVID rules do not make any sense, but we must follow them or sports may be gone

CENTRAL OREGONIAN - Lon AustinNormally I don't think that sports and politics should mix.

However, the current pandemic has inexorably intertwined the two. A lot has changed since I originally wrote this, and a lot hasn't.

Due to regulations from Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority there was no spring sports season in 2020, and all high school athletics were postponed until spring in 2020. Well, that isn't entirely true, as teams were allowed to play non OSAA sanctioned games in the fall. But, I digress.

For 14 months the governor's office has consistently said it isn't safe to compete in indoor contact sports. That all changed on Tuesday, April 20, when the governor's office and the Oregon Health Authority issued a statement allowing both basketball and wrestling to compete.

It's about time. With that said, this is a real head scratcher. The announcement was made on the same day that a number of Oregon counties were moved from low and moderate risk to high risk categories because of a spike in covid cases. Now, less than two weeks later those same counties have been moved to the extreme risk category, and without the usual two week warning period.

I don't know about you, but that makes absolutely no sense to me. I realize that there are some readers who will support the governor's decisions. But, hear me out. Now that 15 Oregon counties, including Deschutes and Crook County's are in the extreme risk categories restaurants will now be forced to either close once again, or have only outdoor dining. Fitness centers will once again be closed despite the fact that there is no evidence that either they or restaurants have led to increased infections and that both have been required to take extensive precautions.

Earlier in the year when counties were in the extreme risk category they were not allowed to play volleyball as that was considered a semi contact sport.

Now, restaurants are once again restricted, but wrestling will be allowed. Well, that is wrestling is allowed, but indoor practices are once again restricted if a county is in the extreme risk group.

So, to summarize, both wrestling and basketball are now legal to play. However, if your county is in the extreme risk category practices once again are limited to six individuals at a time for no more than 45 minutes.

That may make sense to someone, but it doesn't to me, especially since much of the state has already been vaccinated and anyone who still wants a vaccine may now sign up for one. I mean let's be real here. How can a 45 minute practice with six people be safe, but a 50 minute practice isn't.

Personally, I would have allowed sports to go off on schedule all year, with the exception that athletes and their parents would have been required to sign waivers and schools would have had to be having at least hybrid learning. If they wanted to ban spectators to improve safety, that would have been fine with me, although even that puzzles me as high school kids are at low risk of having any serious health consequences from the virus.

But, what I would have done doesn't really matter.

I am glad that basketball and wrestling are going to be allowed. I'm glad that kids are finally being allowed back on the fields courts and mats.

Still, I believe we have done a great disservice to high school athletes in Oregon. Idaho held normal seasons. Teams from Oregon traveled to Idaho to play other teams from Washington and other Oregon schools during this school year. Members of the Culver wrestling team recently returned from Oklahoma where they competed in a tournament.

Yet, Oregon failed to find a way to make things happen. So when the news came that basketball and wrestling are finally going to be allowed all I could say is it's about time.

On another note, the OSAA chose to not sanction post season play. I think that was a mistake. Interestingly from Class 4A down athletic directors found a way to make unofficial state playoffs happen. Even in football, which normally takes weeks for the playoffs they found a way to have a post season, albeit a short one. After taking a coaches poll the top two schools in the poll played each other, while the third and fourth place teams played each other.

Although some schools chose not to participate, in every other sport the smaller schools had some kind of fall playoff. Now that spring sports are started class 4A has already announced that they will find a way to have spring sports playoffs as well.

Unfortunately in Class 5A and 6A there wasn't the will to do the same thing, at least in the fall. To which I say shame on you. After all, isn't this supposed to be about the kids and their opportunity. Instead we have allowed the adults, who aren't really acting very adult like to make the decisions without the best interest of the kids at heart. I hope that 5A will wake up and find a way to hold some kind of playoff for spring and winter sports and to the Class 4A and smaller schools I say well done.

One other note. I'm sure that many of you have seen photos of athletes in track, baseball and softball who don't have their masks up. Those photos caused the OSAA to put out a new memo to make sure that schools understand that the rules must be followed.

However, once again, the rules are constantly evolving. A little less than two weeks ago a Summit High School track athlete made an attempt to break the school record in the girls 800. The girl, who is an elite athlete ran a ridiculously fast 61 second opening lap, and held on to finish in a time just over 2:08, two seconds under the previous school record.

But, that isn't the entire story. A few yards short of the finish line she passed out. Literally passed out. Both head coach Dave Turnbull and the school's athletic trainer believe that it was from extreme oxygen debt. In any case, she fell, hitting her head on the track, getting abrasions and a concussion. The girl slid far enough across the finish line on her face to have her time count. She is currently dealing still dealing with the concussion, but appears to be making a full recovery.

Turnbull took the unusual step of contacting the Oregon Health Authority to ask for a rule change concerning masks.

The story not only made local news, it was picked up nationally

To me it is ridiculous that kids such as distance runners and singles tennis players are expected to wear masks when they aren't near anyone. In fact, Oregon is the only state in the nation that is requiring masks for either track distance races or cross country. In fact, that was much of Turnbull's contention.

And, suprisingly the Oregon Health Authority did make a concession.

As of today, masks are still required for practice in all sports. However, in competition if you are at least six feet from any other players you may remove your mask.

However, the rules have not changed for coaches or spectators. They must still have masks on while attending either practice or competition. I disagree with the rules and I totally understand why someone sitting alone down the left field line at a softball game would see no reason to wear a mask. Those rules are clearly not keeping Oregonians safe as on Friday Oregon had the highest rate of positive cases in the nation, while states like Texas and Mississippi who have removed all restrictions are seeing their case load decrease.

But, be that as it may, regardless of what you think of the "science" behind the rules, regardless of what your personal view is of governor Kate Brown, and regardless of what your view is of the pandemic in general, please keep in mind that failure to follow them may cause prep sports to be stopped cold.

Athletics in the state of Oregon are currently hanging by a thread. Several school districts have already suspended all athletic practices and competition for indefinite periods of time. Sports are hanging by a thread.

Crook County has several athletes and at least one coach currently in quarantine, while Culver High School is closed and athletics will not resume until May 12, and at Madras High School at least one team is currently under quarantine.

One choice made by one player, one parent, one well-intentioned spectator, who fails to follow the rules could just be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

If you have to protest or balk at mask wearing, or any of the other rules and restrictions, I get it. Trust me I get it. I have been in a number of lengthy and sometimes headed discussions about the effectiveness, or lack there of for mask mandates and mask use. I have seen several studies that strongly suggest that masks may actually do more harm than good. Given a choice I would never wear a mask again.

But, please follow the rules at games. It is our kids opportunities and future that is at stake, and that is far more important than either your or my comfort – or any political battle that you or I might choose to fight. Please fight your political battles elsewhere and follow the rules for your kids sake. So, the next time you see me on the field or court, as much as I dislike it, my mask will be up, and so should yours.

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