High school sports in Oregon are set to begin preseason training camps in February, but there are still more questions than answers on exactly how or if it’s all going to happen.
Oregon School Activities Association executive director Peter Weber was confident, to an extent, when asked if the state is on target to have prep sports begin in a couple of weeks.
“I really believe that we are. Now, that may not mean all sports,” Weber said. “Sports like soccer and cross country that are allowed — they’re outdoor sports that are allowed in any county in the state — we feel really good about those getting started Feb. 22.”
Minimal or non-contact outdoor sports currently have the green light from the Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Kate Brown. Included in that group are soccer, cross country, baseball, softball, tennis, track and field and golf.
While it seems that a large number of high school student-athletes will get a chance at some sort of sports season in the 2020-21 school year, there’s still a lot missing.
Football practices are scheduled to begin Feb. 8, but the sport is still prohibited as a full-contact sport under the current state guidelines. Volleyball is slated for practices Feb. 22 with games starting March 1, but indoor sporting events have limitations.
Weber says that only about 50 high schools are currently able to compete in volleyball, based on their county risk levels. Wrestling and basketball join football on the list of prohibited full-contact sports.
With so many questions still surrounding the availability of some sports this school year, Weber says the OSAA Executive Board is focused on figuring out what can be offered under the state’s guidelines.
“I think the board is really focused on trying to provide that flexibility and really focusing on what we can do. There’s so much around things that we may not be able to do, not just in sports, but in general, but let’s focus on things we can do and get going for kids.”
That could mean a pivot to stripped-down variations, like flag football, or other adjustments, but ultimately the OSAA is constrained to whatever guidelines are passed down from the state.
The OSAA Executive Board has constant communication with the OHA and the Governor’s office, according to Weber, and has been advocating for adjustments to some of the more restrictive guidelines.
He feels that things are moving in the right direction. Weber points to case counts coming down in the state and recent changes made to indoor activities in extreme risk counties.
“I think everybody would hope it would be more,” said Weber. “It’s a step in the right direction from not being able to do anything indoors. So the trend is good. We just want it to happen as soon as possible.”
Part of the OSAA’s advocating efforts has been studying how high school sports have been handled in other parts of the country. Weber says they’ve been in contact with directors in all 50 states, in particular here on the West Coast.
Recently, New York, New Mexico, Illinois, California and Washington have all eased at least some restrictions on prep sports. Weber says “that’s all information that we continue to share with those decision-makers at the (Oregon) state level.”
“We did a survey of all 50 states that we sent out around the holidays,” said Weber. The goal was to gather information on what was learned by playing sports in the fall during a pandemic. The biggest takeaway for Weber was “that people were able to do it.”
“Not to say that there weren’t occasional hiccups and things like that,” Weber added. “People, and especially the kids and the coaches, understood that having the opportunity to be there and participating, they needed to follow the guidelines, they needed to wear the masks, they needed to do the things that were required to allow that to continue. Certainly, what we’ve seen and heard from the schools around Oregon is that they’re more than prepared to be able do that.”
For all high school sports to hold true to the current OSAA calendar, there will need to be some changes at the state level in the next week. The OSAA will hold a public meeting on Feb. 8 and Weber is hopeful that the Executive Board will have answers to many of the questions still looming.