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OSAA shifts fall sports to 2021, condenses seasons

Two weeks after delaying the start of the fall sports season by one month to gather more information for a final solution amid COVID-19 concerns, the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) announced several moves Wednesday designed to allow for the best opportunity each of its sanctioned sports will be able to play during the 2020-21 school year.

In the OSAA’s newly adopted school activities calendar, all official sports seasons for the winter, fall and spring (in that order) have been moved to 2021 — from January through June — and condensed into seven-week regular seasons, with a “culminating week” to follow the purely regional competition.

“We’re not sure exactly what that will be but we wanted to have that scheduled in as an opportunity for some type of postseason culminating event,” OSAA executive director Peter Weber said of developing plans for the final week. “I’m not sure that we’ll be able to do what’s traditionally looked at like a state championship or a tournament given the restrictions on gatherings and things like that, but we’re hopeful to have something.”

The OSAA executive board also voted Wednesday to waive current out-of-season coaching policies to allow for student participation during the fall. Season 1 participation (Aug. 31-Dec. 27) will be at the discretion of the local school district in those activities allowed per directives from Gov. Kate Brown, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Education (ODE).

Since the OSAA had to cancel the end of the 2020 winter sports season last March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and subsequently canceled the ensuing spring season, there’s been looming speculation on when and if the state would allow for a return to athletic competition.

With Wednesday’s decision, Weber said he was pleased the OSAA’s contingency groups were able to provide a hopeful solution to coaches, athletes and their families for the upcoming school year.

“It’s been a lot of effort by a lot of people over the last couple months, certainly even more so in the last couple of weeks,” said Weber. “We feel like this is a good plan that will allow us to provide opportunities for kids throughout the state by pushing the seasons later. We’re also excited about being able to hopefully provide some opportunities this fall in those areas of the state that are able to in those activities that are allowed by the state.”

Football, wrestling, basketball, cheerleading and dance and drill currently remain prohibited for play by virtue of their status as full-contact sports, but it's unclear how that relates to general conditioning and training moving forward.

Weber said the OSAA still has received no insight from the state on factors that would allow for a removal of restrictions and enable those full-contact activities to come off the prohibited list in 2020.

“There could be more guidance coming from the state here soon,” he said. “We’ll just have to see like everyone else how that is evolving.”

Traditional winter sports basketball, swimming and wrestling (Season 2) can begin official practices Dec. 28 and will have contests Jan. 11-Feb. 28, with a culminating week set March 1-7. Basketball teams will have 14-game regular seasons, with participation limited to eight meets in swimming and nine events in wrestling.

The fall sports of cross country, football, soccer and volleyball will pick up from there in Season 3, with practices beginning Feb. 22 and first contests March 8. The culminating week for all but football will be April 26-May 2 after regular-season limitations for cross country (nine meets), soccer (10 matches) and volleyball (14 dates). Since it has an extended preseason practice plan, football will have its culminating week May 3-9 after a seven-game regular season. Use of football protective equipment is prohibited outside of Season 3.

The OSAA swapped the order of winter and fall sports on its calendar due to weather concerns.

Weber said the football contingency group had floated the idea of using their culminating week for potential bowl games in the one-week scenario, but no official plans have been made for any sport’s culminating week.

“Those are conversations that we’ll need to have with the membership and flesh out what that could be for each sport,” said Weber, “but we definitely wanted to have that in there.”

Season 4 will follow with the traditional spring sports of baseball, softball, track and field, golf and tennis. Practices begin April 19 with first contests May 3 and a culminating week for each June 21-27. For their regular seasons, baseball and softball teams will play 18 games, track and field allows for nine meets, golf has 14 nine-hole rounds and tennis has 12 playing dates.

Season 1 (Aug. 31-Dec. 27) activities will be at the discretion of local school districts, providing they meet COVID-19 metrics. From conditioning to training to actual competition, any and all may occur so long as it involves an approved sport, meaning you could see spring sports like baseball, softball, golf or tennis filter in with others more typically seen in the late fall/early winter timeframe — so long as the competing schools meet mandated criteria in their region.

“That’s why we waived the out-of-season coaching policy,” said Weber. “We don’t want to stifle that, we want to encourage that. We know that it’s important to get kids back participating if it’s safe to do so, so that’s why we made those changes.”

Per the governor’s statewide mandate two weeks ago, which led the Medford School District to adopt plans for remote learning only in grades four through 12 to begin the school year, counties must see a weekly new case rate at or below 10 per 100,000 residents for three straight weeks before schools will be approved for reopening to any form of in-person learning to older elementary, middle and high school students.

In addition, the weekly test positivity rate in the county must remain at or below 5% for three weeks in a row.

The state of Oregon as a whole must also see 5% or less of tests returning positive each week for three straight weeks for any districts to reopen, and the case rate in the county also cannot be at or over 30 new cases per 100,000 in the preceding seven days for three weeks straight.

The spring sports season this past school year was canceled by the OSAA in part because there was no in-person learning taking place statewide due to the governor’s mandate at the time. Weber said it’s unclear whether any similar restrictions will be in place for the OSAA’s Season 1, or if the governor would be willing to alter her previous approach, but the board didn’t want to exclude teams that may be able to play in their respective regions by a sweeping cancellation.

“I don’t know if that will happen,” Weber said of September through December competition, “but we wanted to have it out there. If there are schools in an area that they can do it, then let’s do it.”

Many states had already come out with their plan of action for the 2020-21 school year, but Weber said it was important that the OSAA take its time and do its due diligence to create a plan that gives athletes in every chosen sport a safe opportunity to compete.

“I think after coming off of last year, we wanted to do everything we could to provide three distinct opportunities for kids,” said Weber. “Again after looking at what Washington, Nevada and some other states have put out, we felt like this plan provided the maximum opportunity to do that. We also thought it was important to try and provide opportunities this fall where we could for kids to get back participating.”

Any fall competition would fall under the OSAA’s jurisdiction and require officials as well as all safety measures to be met. The official season for each sport, however, falls in the aforementioned 2021 timeframes.

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

South Medford vs. North Medford, Girls' Varsity Soccer.(PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR)