Prep football still in limbo, but there's an opening
The wait continues for high school football teams, but there's an opening for play to happen.
Monday, Feb. 8, was supposed to mark the first official practice date for a pending March season, but players, coaches and the Oregon School Activities Association were still waiting for clearance from Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority to play contact sports.
That happened Wednesday. From the governor's office, a news released stated:
Gov. Kate Brown announced today that the Oregon Health Authority will be revising its guidance for outdoor sports, as well as the exemption for college athletics.
"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," said Brown. "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."
Beginning this week, outdoor contact sports will be permitted to resume with health and safety protocols in place based on county risk level; see https://www.coronavirus.oregon.gov/Pages/living-with-covid.aspx.
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 (such as Multnomah County), where COVID-19 remains more widespread, 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.
Those counties wishing to opt in for outdoor contact sports must meet the requirements for sports organizations above, and must also have at least limited in-person instruction occurring, with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year. Schools must also be in compliance with state guidance for COVID-19 testing.
On Monday, OSAA confirmed Feb. 22 as the first day of practices for high school boys and girls soccer and cross country.
Athletes in all high school sports have been, and continue to be, allowed to do non-contact training in small groups while following protocols to defend against the spread of COVID-19.
The OSAA had scheduled football practices to begin on Monday, Feb. 8, with contact practices to begin Feb. 15 and games the week of March 1. While conditioning and non-contact training can proceed, the OSAA was awaiting news on football; there is now some clarity, but it remains to be seen which school districts, including Portland, can move forward with football.
Volleyball was also remaining up in the air. As it stood Feb. 8, volleyball will be allowed starting Feb. 22 only for 47 schools in counties below the governor's extreme-risk threshold.
Under current restrictions, multiple-team contests, such as volleyball tournaments, are not allowed.
Schools, leagues and regions not permitted to participate in a sport can request their season be shifted to a later date.
The OSAA board has scheduled a Feb. 17 meeting to discuss options for playoff weeks.
Also Monday, the OSAA Executive Board amended its practice limitation rule so that out-of-season coaches are allowed to work with athletes up to six hours a week on skills development. Those sessions can start Feb. 22 and must be optional.
Wednesday's news was positive. At least there's a possibility for some football and other sports to be played.
Governor Brown continued: "To all of Oregon's high school athletes: I am asking you now to be leaders in your communities. 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."
Added Brown: "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."
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