Gov. Kate Brown announced Wednesday that the Oregon Health Authority will revise its guidance for outdoor high school sports and is allowing exemption requests for college programs.
Outdoor contact prep sports — football being the biggest one — can resume this week based on county risk levels and under heightened health and safety protocols.
“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 in a release.
“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.”
Roseburg High School athletic director Russ Bolin welcomed the news that the football program will be able to put helmets and pads on for practice next week. Games tentatively start in March.
“It’s a positive step in the right direction,” Bolin said. “I’m excited for the kids, and the program. There are still some things to figure out, but we’ll take every positive step we can get right now.”
“I’m really happy for the kids,” Sutherlin AD Josh Grotting said. “They’ve been stressed out and a gray cloud has been hanging over us, so it was a pretty exciting day around here. We’ll do everything we can to follow the guidelines.”
Oakland principal and boys basketball coach Jeff Clark, a member of the OSAA Executive Board, called it “a victory with an asterisk.”
“On the surface, it’s awesome. The great thing is it gives us one more activity. But there are a lot of layers to it, a lot of extra hoops to go through. We’ll do everything we can to meet the standards.”
In low-and moderate-risk counties, practices and games came resume more or less as normal, with schools following the OHA’s health and safety guidelines. But in high-and extreme-risk counties, schools and sports organizations must “opt-in” to resume outdoor contact sports, Brown said, while implementing additional protocols.
These protocols include on-site testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact tracing, and a health and safety waiver. In addition to the protocols, Brown said, schools in these counties must also host limited in-person instruction with the goal of “achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year.”
“To all of Oregon’s high school athletes: I am asking you now to be leaders in your communities,” Brown said in the release. “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.
“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.”
Indoor contact sports such as basketball and wrestling remain prohibited in all counties, with the exception of the men’s and women’s basketball programs at Oregon’s four D-I schools.
The OHA will be updating the exemption for college sports, allowing Division II, D-III, NAIA and community colleges to submit health and safety plans to resume college athletics.
However, all such teams must still meet the same standards that Oregon’s D-I programs have met before they’ll be permitted to resume full activities — including regular COVID-19 testing, plans for contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, and health and safety protocols for practices and games.