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PREP NOTEBOOK: OSAA weighs options for fall season

While the coronavirus grip on society appears to be loosening, albeit ever so cautiously, there’s still no way of knowing at this point whether high school sports will return to normal in the fall.

As we continue to endure a canceled spring sports season on the cusp of a dramatically shortened winter campaign, it’s natural to be thinking about the fall season and what Oregon athletes, parents and fans have in store.

Unfortunately, the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA), which governs high school athletics through the school year, has no answer to that query but it is working on it.

“Who knows what the next couple months will bring,” said OSAA executive director Peter Weber, “but I’m sure it’s going to be interesting. We’re doing everything we can to try and get ahead of it and be ready.”

As such, Weber said the OSAA has formed contingency groups for all fall sports and activities — consisting of athletic directors, coaches and OSAA staff members — that have been virtually meeting online since last Monday to set out a path the group can follow regardless of what the landscape looks like do to the COVID-19 pandemic come September.

“Hopefully that will provide some good feedback so we have some ideas if and when we know what the parameters are going to be when we come back in the fall,” said Weber.

On the advice of the Oregon Health Authority, Gov. Kate Brown has said that any large gatherings, including sporting events, should be canceled or modified, at least through September.

Currently, school facilities have been ordered closed through June 30, with the governor reserving the right to extend any and all of her office’s directives in an ongoing effort to quell the impact the coronavirus has on the state.

With constantly changing variables, that hasn’t made it easy for Weber and company as they find themselves trying to map out a host of solutions that can be enacted at a moment’s notice in the fall.

“We’re getting a lot of input from people, which is great,” said Weber. “I would say that just about everything is on the table at this point.”

“We just want to look at what it looks like from a calendar standpoint on practices or contests if we have certain limitations,” he added. “If this scenario is play, what does it look like for cross country versus what does it look like for volleyball or football or whatever? We’re just getting some ADs and coaches from around the state to talk about that so we can kind of make a plan.”

In the case of volleyball, Weber said the contingency group has been formulating ideas for if the season starts late, from two weeks to a month to six weeks, and how that impacts what the OSAA is able to do.

The group has also been looking at the large gatherings portion of Brown’s decree, which potentially could be altered in the coming months, and whether teams would be able to play dual matches but maybe not tournaments, and how that affects the schedule and the viability of a state tournament.

Every fall activity is getting similar treatment, and all ideas are getting their due process, regardless of how outside the box they may be.

“Everything is on the table,” said Weber. “We’ve actually heard some ideas that we’re like, huh, that might be something, and we’ve heard a lot of ideas that are like, wow, we’ve never thought about that one.”

An idea of moving fall contact sports to the spring and shifting sports better suited for social distancing to the fall has been discussed, but all of that is preliminary and Weber said people shouldn’t put a lot of credence into those talks at this point.

While such a move fits the mold of social distancing recommendations, be it for athletes or onlookers, shifting sports from their traditional fall, winter or spring time blocks would require considerable efforts throughout the state that could wind up being unnecessary depending on coronavirus trends.

“There’s a lot of different discussions,” said Weber, “but right now that’s all they are. At some point I’m sure there will come a time when we need to obviously pull the trigger, but I think one of the lessons hopefully we learned from the winter and the spring — and we tried to do it in the spring — was to wait as long as possible before we make a move.”

The biggest piece of the puzzle will be what the governor’s directives are for the 2020-21 school year, and that won’t likely come for a while.

“Are they going to be back in session in a somewhat normal fashion,” said Weber, “is it going to be some type of distance learning or a combination of in-person and distance learning? Obviously those questions haven’t been answered yet either and that will play a big role in what we do.”

“Our stance before has been that we need to have kids in school and some type of in-person learning in order to be able to do these things when it comes to athletics and activities,” he added.

In the meantime, Weber said the OSAA is trying to develop some summertime assistance for schools, albeit on a limited basis, as they navigate uncertain times once the association year essentially ends May 25.

The OSAA’s executive board, which met May 4 and wasn’t supposed to gather again until the end of July, will also be meeting virtually on a more regular basis for continued updates and information gathering.

None of that, mind you, helps current high school coaches who are essentially isolated from their programs and unable to use school facilities to train and coach their athletes.

“There are a lot more unknowns than anything right now and it’s frustrating,” said South Medford girls basketball coach Tom Cole. “It’s a mess.”

Through his work as executive director at Kids Unlimited, Cole has spent most of his springs helping coordinate the Singler Open, which is played on Mother’s Day weekend and was canceled this year, and taking his team to tournaments to help gain exposure for his players.

“This was the first Mother’s Day weekend in the last 14 years where I haven’t been worried on Saturday about what game scores were and all the chaos that goes with the Singler tournament,” said Cole, “and admittedly I miss it.”

“Obviously it’s super-stressful,” he added of the boys and girls basketball tournament started by Kyle Singler as his senior project at South Medford High, “but we also have just had it become an expectation that we’re going to go through that crazy time every year. To have it be not that this year was really strange.”

To have two viewing platforms for his players already canceled this spring — and the entire summer period in doubt — due to coronavirus mandates and lack of facilities has been more concerning to Cole.

“We have a big class of kids in that 2021 class and all the recruiting now is so up in the air,” he said. “We have missed two of the four potential recruiting periods that have always been the path of how our kids move on to play college basketball.

“There are six kids in our junior class that all have hopes of playing at some level and it just sucks because with the governor now saying no sporting events at all until after September, that has a terrible impact on high school things and not just the college or pro levels everyone thinks about.”

Crater girls basketball coach Scott Dippel couldn’t agree more with Cole’s helpless feelings. He’s had a handful of planned tournament trips postponed, and the Comets’ team camp at Oregon State at the end of June is still up in the air.

“The kids want to get in gyms and they want to work on their games and stay in shape,” said Dippel, “so I’m hoping that we’ll get some kind of direction soon on how we can make that happen.”

“There’s so many logistical things that would come into that and being able to do that safely,” he added. “I’m like everybody, I sure would hope that we could move on. If we can’t play games then still have some kind of system after school’s out where we can start working with players.”

One plus from the OSAA’s most recent executive board meeting is that it eliminated this year’s moratorium week (July 26-Aug. 1) so athletes and coaches will have a wide open schedule ahead of them so long as they mitigate coronavirus issues.

“Even if they say it’s open in June,” said Dippel, “I’ll still need to make sure that every bit of it is safe and that all the questions are answered before we go anywhere. It’s something you’ve got to be really thoughtful about when you travel out of your town.”

Have a local story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

South Medford’s Kaili Chamberlin, shown in action this past season, is among a handful of Panther juniors who have already missed out on spring recruiting opportunities.{ }Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune