High school football cleared to play
High school football is back.
Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday, Feb. 10, that the Oregon Health Authority will be revising its guidance for outdoor sports, clearing the way for high school football when newly designed requirements are met.
Banks head football coach Cole Linehan said the news is music to his ears, but it's even sweeter for his stuent athletes.
"For months now, we've been telling these kids, 'Hang in there, just hang in there,' hoping for the best," Linehan said. "This is just a big day for us."
Beginning this week, outdoor contact sports will be permitted to resume with health and safety protocols in place based on county risk level. In "lower risk" and "moderate risk" counties, practices and games for outdoor contact sports, including high school football, can resume following health and safety guidance to be issued by the Oregon Health Authority.
In "high risk" and "extreme risk" counties where COVID-19 remains more widespread, like here in Washington County, schools and other sports organizations can opt-in to resuming outdoor contact sports with additional protocols in place. In such counties, sports organizations must offer on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.
In a statement to the press, Brown urged high school athletes to act responsibly both on and off the field in an effort to keep friends, family and the community safe in light of their newfound responsibility.
"To all of Oregon's high school athletes: I am asking you now to be leaders in your communities," Brown said. "We've given you the chance to play, but with that opportunity comes great responsibility. If COVID-19 numbers spike, we may have to shut down contact sports again. When you are off the field, set the example for your peers: wear a mask, maintain physical distance, and avoid social gatherings."
She added, "It is not lost on me that this decision today will allow high school football to resume, when too many high school classrooms across Oregon remain empty. To all the parents of student athletes and coaches who have called and emailed me in the last year asking for school sports to resume, I am challenging you now to devote your energy to making sure in-person academics can resume for your kids, too. If our school gyms, fields and weight rooms are to reopen, we owe it to Oregon's children to make sure our classrooms, libraries and science labs fully reopen as well."
Linehan said that stressing safety protocols to his players won't be new, as he and his staff have been doing so from the beginning.
"My message to them this whole time was that we need to do everything right if we want a chance to play, so that's not new to us," Linehan said. "Follow every rule so no one can take this away from us."
Brown said the decision to revise current guidelines was made with an understanding of the importance of high school athletics, in addition to the effects on young people in their absence.
"This has been a difficult year for Oregon's youth athletes and, as our COVID-19 numbers have dropped, I have been committed to working with our health experts to reevaluate our protocols for sports," Brown said. "School sports play an important role in fostering students' mental, emotional, and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families, and their communities."
Hillsboro Athletic Director Steve Drake said he and his staff are excited for the opportunity and were finalizing a plan to provide the safest atmosphere possible.
"We had a meeting this morning (Feb. 12), just throwing a bunch of stuff out there just trying to figure things out, making sure we get keep our kids safe and and have something in place in a short period of time, Drake said. "We're going to support the decision of the OHA to play, and we're going to make sure that we put a plan in place to keep our kids safe."
Part of that safety plan is to ease kids back into playing (football). Due to state guidelines, kids haven't had typical opportunities to be in the weight room, go full pads, participate in camps and condition in the manner their accustomed prior to a season. Drake said that because of that they'll have to recreate that preparation in a shorter period of time to best prepare for games which are scheduled to begin in three weeks.
"We're excited about getting kids back on the field," Drake said, "But we also want to be sure that we make this opportunity a safe one, and I think we're doing that."
As part of the new guidelines, Brown added that the Oregon Health Authority will also be updating the exemption for college sports — allowing Division II, Division III and NAIA schools to submit health and safety plans to resume college athletics, while meeting the same rigorous standards currently being met by the state's Division I universities.
Ultimately, this was a good day for Oregon sports, and one that Linehan said has been a long time coming — not only for the athletes on the field, but for the kids who have spent the last 10 months patiently waiting for something they simply didn't have: the opportunity to play.
"Once we got that announcement today, it was like a weight was lifted off of our shoulders, because we finally had answers," Linehan said. "All we ever wanted was answers, so now we have some, and it's great to get things started.
"It's time to play, and it's time to get these kids back on track."
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