OREGON — There are still lots of questions that remain unanswered, but as of Wednesday, Feb. 10, it looks like Oregon high school football will be back on the field in 2021.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown released a letter Feb. 10 that allows the return of high school football, which has been on the shelf for well over a year now due to state restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic
Brown's letter — which also offers new rules for college sports in Oregon — announced that the Oregon Health Authority is revising guidance for outdoor sports. While the latest rules come with a number of provisions — especially for schools located in counties in the High Risk and Extreme Risk categories — Brown's letter permits outdoor contact sports to resume with health and safety protocols in place.
For Oregon high school football players, their parents, coaches and fans, Brown's announcement offered a long-awaited bit of good news.
"The day that memo came out … there were a lot of smiles on the football kids' faces when they heard that there was a strong possibility (of playing in 2021)," said Jesuit High School Athletic Director Mike Hughes. "We're very grateful that the Oregon Health Authority and the governor have changed their position."
"Yes, we're going to be playing football. Schools can make it happen. Just follow the rules. There's no question we can make this happen," said Scappoose AD Adam Strachan. "We're excited about the change. We're excited for our kids. It's the first real good news they've had in almost 11 months."
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, schools and other sports organizations can opt in to resuming outdoor contact sports with additional protocols in place. In those 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.
Schools in Extreme and High Risk counties that wish to opt in for outdoor contact sports must meet the requirements listed above, and must also offer at least limited in-person instruction, 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.
Despite those additional hurdles, Strachan said that his school will be ready to play all its traditional fall-season sports in Season 2, which opens for competition beginning March 1.
"They're going to get competitions in virtually all sports now," Strachan said. "… There's a full 'go' with obvious modifications in place. … That's really exciting."
"We are waiting for further instructions from the governor's office and the (Oregon School Activities Association)," Hughes said, "but based on the governor's memo, we feel that we will have football at Jesuit. We feel we meet … the requirements, according for her memo."
The latest changes from the governor's office and the OHA come hot on the heels of a Monday, Feb. 8, meeting of the Oregon School Activities Association — the governing body for high school sports in Oregon — and the state's announcement that 10 counties were shifted from the Extreme Risk category to the High Risk category on Friday, Feb. 12.
Following that surge of new information, here's what Season 2 sports look like right now. Boys and girls soccer, and boys and girls cross country were approved for practice and competition at the Feb. 8 OSAA meeting. Football is now allowed in all counties (with some additional protocols required in Extreme Risk and High Risk counties). Volleyball, as an indoor sport, is allowed in all counties except those classified as Extreme Risk. Organizers say that water polo (though not governed by the OSAA, it is subject to rules from the governor's office and the OHA), a full-contact sport and an indoor sport, is not yet allowed.
According to the revised calendar released by the OSAA back in December, high school football was scheduled to open practice on Monday, Feb. 8, and begin competition on Friday, March 5. Volleyball is scheduled to kick off practice Feb. 22 and start competition March 1. Water polo has scheduled competition to begin March 8 and continue through May 8
As of Feb. 12, just 14 of Oregon's 36 counties remain in the extreme risk category, notably including Marion and Lane counties.
Despite the remaining hurdles, OSAA officials hope to provide almost as many as opportunities high school athletes saw in previous years.
"We certainly remain optimistic that as we move forward … we're going to be able to see some adjustments to current policy that's going to allow a potential return to the game," said OSAA assistant executive director Brad Garrett. "That's what I'm hopeful for."
The OSAA also approved a variety of alternative options for football, including activities such as 7-on-7, flag football, virtual lineman challenges and virtual combines. Following Governor Brown's announcement on Feb. 10, it appears those might never need to be implemented.
"We are leveraging every possible opportunity to find opportunities to produce activities that kids and coaches can do together under the current guidelines," Garrett said.
For schools in the 14 Extreme Risk counties, the board approved outdoor volleyball as an option. Volleyball teams also could benefit from the board approving a "change of season request form." Schools, leagues and regions not currently permitted to participate in an activity can request to shift their seasons to a later date when they would be allowed to participate.
Water polo might be allowed in outdoor pools in counties not listed as extreme risk, but only if the state changes its guidance regarding full-contact sports.
While the OSAA executive board did not address these on Monday, Season 3 (which includes traditional spring season sports) and Season 4 (which includes traditional winter season sports) remain scheduled to begin competition on April 12 and May 17.
Jerry Ulmer of OSAAtoday contributed to this story.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.