Peter Weber has been with the Oregon School Activities Association for 21 years, having served the past four as the association’s Executive Director.
He has never seen a situation like this.
Due to the ongoing concerns over the COVID-19 coronavirus, the spring term and all of its sports and activities will remain on hiatus until the end of April.
“Not to this scale. It’s unprecedented,” Weber said of the OSAA Executive Board’s decision Wednesday afternoon to suspend all spring sports practices and contests through April 28, one day after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown mandated that all schools remain closed until the same date.
In Wednesday’s meeting via conference call, the OSAA made the difficult decision to cancel the state speech and debate and solo music championships, and the rest of the spring sports slate could be next.
“That was gut-wrenching,” Weber said of Wednesday’s cancellations. “But at the same time, we think it’s proper. We are education-based, first and foremost, and those were tough decisions. But given the timeline and restrictions in place, we didn’t feel like it made sense to string anybody along.”
The OSAA is working on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control, the Oregon Health Authority and the Governor’s Office to make sure whatever decisions are made are in the best interest of its students.
“The last two weeks have been crazy,” Weber said. “This week we were on a conference call with directors from other Western states, just talking about how we’re going to handle this. We’re just trying to make the best decisions we can.”
Under the prior suspension of activities through March 31, there was still a realistic possibility that there could at least be an abbreviated spring sports season. While schools statewide are trying to transition to online classes in the interim, unless there is an extension to the school year, it is unlikely the “ping” of aluminum bat-on-ball, or a starter’s pistol, or the chirp of shoes on a tennis court will be heard in the next two months.
Local athletic directors have been working with their coaches on contingency plans. Under the current structure of the suspension. coaches are forbidden to be in contact with their athletes. Athletes are welcome to go through individual workouts under indirect guidance from their coaches, but are discouraged to hold group practices, which already are prohibited on school grounds.
“In no way, shape or form are we encouraging our athletes to get together to train,” said Roseburg High School Athletic Director Russ Bolin. “There’s really nothing (the coaches) can do right now.”
“It’s just bizarre,” Sutherlin High School Athletic Director Josh Grotting said. Grotting’s girls basketball team placed second in the Class 3A state tournament, just four days before the OSAA shut down the winter sports season.
“I haven’t seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Grotting said. “We just have to go back to the drawing board and focus on how we are going to service our students the best way we can.
“I think once the NCAA started its cancellations, the writing was on the wall.”
For area seniors — many who were born in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — this spring could mean the truncated end to their high school days: no baseball, no track, no senior prom. And if limits on social gatherings remain, no graduation?
Three weeks ago that would have sounded alarmist. Today, it sounds like a distinct reality.
“Coaches teach their kids, ‘Forget about the last play, move on to the next one,’ and that’s kind of where we’re at here,” Bolin said.
“Not that athletics are a priority at all right now,” added Grotting, “but from that perspective, there are longer lasting effects than just this year.”