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OSAA adopts options for prohibited sports

For soccer and cross-country athletes and coaches, Monday’s highly anticipated meeting of the Oregon School Activities Association executive board offered a reaffirmation that those sports will return to competition, albeit with COVID-19 safety protocols, beginning March 1.

For those involved in Season 2 sports currently prohibited in Oregon — football (in all counties) and volleyball (in extreme risk counties) — the meeting offered no guarantees but at least a ray of hope for change, along with some alternative season options.

OSAA executive director Peter Weber said the board expects to receive updated guidance on contact sports in the coming days from Gov. Kate Brown’s office and the Oregon Health Authority. The exact timeline for that guidance is unknown, according to Weber, but the expectation is it will speak to where the state stands in the matter of the proposed March-April high school seasons.

“With football, in conversations with the governor’s office and OHA over the past week or so,” Weber said by phone Monday, “we believe that there’s going to be some type of change to the contact sports guidance. They’re working on finalizing that here and hope to have that in the next couple of days.”

“We don’t know what that means, if it’s going to be a little or a lot or somewhere in between,” he added, “but we believe that there is a change coming. Obviously a change would be a positive because right now they’re prohibited with regards to contact sports.”

Only the governor, on advice from the OHA, has the authority to change current statewide restrictions on contact sports that were put in place due to COVID-19. Weber said the OSAA has no legal jurisdiction to override mandates set in place by the governor’s office.

Monday marked the first day of the official practice season for football, which has a three-week training window before games can be played in March. All other Season 2 sports have a one-week training window that begins Feb. 22.

While Weber said it would have been nice to have a definitive answer for players, coaches and fans on whether helmets and pads could be donned one day soon, it doesn’t really impact the nature of this first week of football practice.

“This week with football practice starting, we want schools to be doing that,” he said. “This is a conditioning week, it’s a non-contact week anyways so we would encourage schools to get out there with their kids and have that opportunity this week as we’re anticipating some type of change coming in a few days.”

As a provision in case the ban on contact sports is not lifted or altered in a way that allows respective counties to participate for the planned six-week Season 2 (March 1-April 11), the OSAA approved alternative options Monday that would involve oversight of potential 7-on-7 flag football and virtual lineman challenges to take place instead of traditional contact football.

“We understand those things aren’t the same,” said Weber, “but we do want to provide opportunities for students and schools.”

From a health and safety standpoint, Weber previously said the idea of pushing back the football season is not being explored given the quick turnaround to a potential 2021 fall season. Shortening the currently planned six-week season also is unlikely.

Last Friday, the Medford School Board sent a letter to Gov. Brown, the OHA and OSAA on behalf of the community to advocate for allowing students to return to athletics and extracurricular activities, with safety measures in place, due to a growing concern for their mental health and well-being.

Weber said the OSAA’s hope is to keep kids active and engaged as much as possible given statewide restrictions, thus the reason for Monday’s adopted options.

“We know it’s not a replacement, it’s not perfect,” Weber said of the limited contact football alternatives, “but we’re trying to provide those opportunities within the parameters we have.”

In similar fashion, the OSAA moved forward Monday with a plan to allow those counties where playing indoor volleyball is allowed — those below the extreme risk level for coronavirus cases — to freely do so at their local and regional level in Season 2.

Schools in extreme risk counties, however, may submit a change of season request to play at a later date once their respective county meets approved risk criterias, meaning volleyball could spill over into Season 3 or 4 in some areas while still maintaining a six-week limit. Outdoor volleyball is also an approved option for Season 2 in extreme risk areas.

Jackson, Josephine and Klamath counties currently all fall into the extreme risk category, although case numbers appear to be settling down in Medford. Statewide, Weber said there has been talk that a few counties in the Portland area could see their status drop below extreme risk as soon as Tuesday, and others could follow suit before the end of February.

The OSAA board also began preliminary discussions on what culminating weeks will look like in soccer, cross-country and volleyball (April 5-11) but voted to circle back again during its Feb. 17 work session before making any decisions.

Given pandemic restrictions, it seems unlikely that the state will be able to host traditional state tournaments, rather a move toward establishing local and regional events appears more in the offing.

In lieu of updated football guidance, discussion for that sport’s culminating week was tabled.

The altered OSAA calendar for the 2020-21 school year, adopted Dec. 7, has traditional fall sports competing in Season 2, with baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track and field set to compete in Season 3 (April 12-May 23) and basketball, wrestling and swimming slated for competition in Season 4 (May 17-June 27).

Have a 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 football players go through preseason training recently at Spiegelberg Stadium. While awaiting updated state guidance for contact sports, the OSAA moved Monday to adopt alternatives{ }should football remain prohibited for Season 2, including 7-on-7, flag football and virtual lineman competitions . Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune