It’s game on for Oregon school sports. Or, rather, game on, with safety precautions.
After a nearly yearlong absence, the Oregon Health Authority announced Wednesday it will be revising its guidance for the continuation of outdoor sports.
That opens the door for high school fall sports to begin the first week of March — with protocols in place.
Astoria athletic director and football coach Howard Rub is cautiously optimistic and pleased that there are now at least plans in place for sports.
“The premise is, we are excited, if we find that we can do all this stuff safely,” he said. “Everyone is excited to put something together that will be safe and healthy for our kids, provided we can make sure to follow all the new guidelines that will officially come out on Friday, regarding contact sports like football. We will certainly try to move forward.”
The revised sports schedule will have fall sports up first, with cross-country, football, soccer and volleyball. Practices for football officially begin on Monday, with practices for other sports to begin later this month. Games and events start March 1.
In a statement, Gov. Kate Brown said, “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.“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.” Clatsop County was downgraded on Friday from the extreme risk to high risk category for the coronavirus.
Rub is hoping that trend continues, so he can get back to scheduling games and events for the Fishermen.
“We’ll be able to get up to 50 people in our gym, so we’ll be able to get volleyball going,” he said of the only fall indoor sport. “The thing that would be helpful moving forward, with our return of students to school and some form of athletics, is that our COVID numbers keep going down. We need everyone to work hard to do what they can.”
Plans are still in the early stages, and Rub is anticipating questions that will arise. Will spectators be allowed? Will road trips be safe for student-athletes? Will there be junior varsity sports? “Right now, the early discussion is if we’re able to play a league season, the league rule would be that there would be no spectators,” he said. “That’s not our desire — it’s a safety-driven decision. Our desire is
to provide competition for our kids. That’s our sole focus.” For fans, “we will work hard at all of our facilities to provide some type of broadcast for our varsity events if possible, to help our parents and fans.” Also, “we want to make certain that we’re not going to take any long bus trips, if it’s not deemed safe to do so. There are some trips on our schedule right now that might not be able to happen.”
For sports that have the numbers, there will be one level of junior varsity sports.
“A lot of this will depend on how our numbers turn out,” Rub said. “There will be some kids or families who prefer to wait until next fall. We understand and respect that.”
The Oregon Health Authority also stated that schools in extreme and high risk counties wishing to hold outdoor contact sports must meet requirements for sports organizations 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.”
Rub said, “I appreciate the (Astoria) district office, the school board, the superintendent of schools and all of our administrators for working so hard to get our kids back in school.”Brown said, “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.”
Brown, who has been under pressure over the past six months to open classrooms and restart sports, responded with a challenge of her own.
“It is not lost on me that this decision 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,” the governor said.