While there are many unanswered questions and uncertainties hanging in the balance, the Ohio High School Athletic Association on Friday said fall sports can proceed as scheduled.
That announcement means that, starting today, all local high school fall sports programs can practice.
From there, though, the future is not as clear.
Sports classified by the state as “non-contact”, which include golf, tennis and volleyball, are permitted to compete, both in scrimmages and regular-season contests, against other schools as their schedules allow.
But the “contact” sports of soccer, football and cross country are in more of a holding pattern. Because of coronavirus restrictions that are in place by the governor’s office, those sports are not allowed to scrimmage other teams. They can practice immediately, and they can begin their regular seasons as scheduled given there are no other mandates handed down from the state in the meantime.
“The OHSAA continues to work with the governor’s office toward approval of contests in cross country, field hockey, soccer and football,” Friday’s statement from the OHSAA stated.
“It is important to keep athletic activity moving forward,” said Dan Leffingwell, president of the OHSAA Board of Directors and superintendent of the Noble Local Schools in Sarahsville. “And with that, we believe our member schools provide our student-athletes with the safest possible environment to return to play and that our school programs are the best avenue to help students learn lifelong lessons and provide social, emotional and physical benefits that other programs cannot. Moving forward allows those students to continue to be engaged with their school coaches and teammates. Membership data also supports this decision.”
One of the factors behind the OHSAA board of directors deciding to allow fall sports to begin is the fear of athletes being forced to find opportunities elsewhere — which may come in less safe environments — if there are no school sports.
“If we were to delay, our students will find opportunities to compete in sports through non-school programs that may not be focused on safety and are not education-based,” Leffingwell said. “Should data on COVID-19 change and/or the governor’s office makes changes to our plan, we have flexibility that would allow us to look at implementing other models for our seasons.”
Although Friday’s decision by the OHSAA was a win for fall athletics, it doesn’t eliminate major headaches and issues with scheduling.
Several conferences in the region, including the Greater Western Ohio Conference and the Miami Valley League, have decided to play only league opponents in all fall sports this season. That has left schools like Bellefontaine, which plays numerous schools from those two conferences in non-conference contests, scrambling to fill holes on the schedule.
Bellefontaine’s football team has lost its season-opening opponent in Sidney, which is now a member of the MVL. The Chiefs are scheduled to play Columbus Watterson in Week 2, but that contest also appears to be up in the air.
“There is a chance we will lose our first two games,” said Bellefontaine athletic director Matt Comstock. “The hope is to be able to fill them. If not, the state has said there will be adjustments made so you aren’t hurt if you don’t play a full schedule.”
There is also the possibility the Central Buckeye Conference, which includes
Bellefontaine, Benjamin Logan and Indian Lakes, follows the direction of the GWOC and MVL and decides to play only conference opponents this fall.
The CBC athletic directors are scheduled to meet Tuesday and Comstock anticipates there will be a discussion about moving to league games only.
“It’s going to be difficult for (Bellefontaine) to find non-league opponents now,” said Comstock. “With the MVL and GWOC making their decisions, we lost a lot of our non-league opponents from all of our fall sports. I think as a conference we need to do what’s best for all of our kids. That may mean filling out our schedules amongst ourselves.”
Ben Logan athletic director Scott Reule is also concerned about having to react to decisions made by other leagues.
“With all of this, when one domino falls, it impacts the next one,” said Reule. “We would like to play our schedule as is. The decisions of other schools and other conferences are greatly effecting us. From a CBC standpoint, I do believe there is a thought that we want to help each other as much as we can, since we work so much together as a conference.”
For his teams in “contact” sports that can’t scrimmage, Reule said he is encouraging them to be creative to break up the grind of facing each other every day for several weeks until the season begins.
“It’s going to be tough for them because they have lost their scrimmages,” said Reule. “I’ve talked to our coaches about trying to break things up, maybe doing some different things and having some off days here and there to keep things fresh.”
Nothing has been certain in the coronavirus era, leaving the possibility that some, or all fall sports, may be halted at some point.
Comstock said all he and his coaches can do is keep working and hope for the best.
“For the last couple of months since we were allowed to start back up, we’ve had a bunch of coaches and athletes working hard in hopes of having a season,” said Comstock. “There has been no real leadership or guidance from the state, so all we have done and all we can do is keep practicing, and when Day 1 on the schedule comes, hopefully we will have some games to play.”