Wednesday, August 19th, 2020

Governor says let 'em play

Fall high school sports are a go

From staff reports

New Bremen running back Wyatt Dicke wears a disposable hazmat suit and ventilati. . .

COLUMBUS - All Ohio high school sports can take place this fall, with an option for sports such as football or soccer to be delayed until the spring if school officials wish, Gov. Mike DeWine said Tuesday in one of his most-anticipated coronavirus-related announcements that came just days before the start of the school year.
The governor's order - which takes effect Friday - prohibits spectators other than family members or individuals close to athletes, with final decisions on those people left up to local officials. Similar limits are in place for family members of marching bands and drill teams.
"Our order provides the best guidance to play sports as safely as can be played in the era of COVID-19," DeWine said.
Celina athletic director Jeff Fortkamp reacted happily.
"It's great that the kids will get to compete," Fortkamp said. "They worked hard for this."
The timing of the announcement, just days before the opening of the high school soccer and volleyball seasons and with football season beginning next week, means some scrambling will take place to determine just how many fans will be able to attend events.
DeWine's initial statement emphasized "families and loved ones," but Coldwater athletic director Eric Goodwin noted that in a conference call later Monday afternoon with athletic directors, the limitations were walked back slightly.
"It could be a limitation of four (tickets) per family. He's also coming out with stadium capacity limits, both maximum and percentage-wise," said Goodwin.
Goodwin, who has been organizing the season-opening Cavalier Spikeoff volleyball tournament for Saturday featuring eight teams, including St. Henry, St. Marys and New Knoxville, said he has little time to finalize plans.
"I've had about every situation that could have gone down worked out on paper," Goodwin said. "It's just a matter of pulling those out. We've had meetings about it. You feel like you're prepared, but as soon as it hits, it's like a hailstorm coming at you."
Fortkamp faces the same issues with the volleyball team opening Friday night at home at the intermediate school gymnasium and the boys soccer team opening on Saturday afternoon at the soccer stadium.
"All the ADs have three days to read his order (which was released in full today) and get ready for home events," Fortkamp said. "I still don't know how many seats I can sell for volleyball. It would be nice to be able to tell the parents what's going on with how many people I can get in."
Another factor is road games and how many fans would be allowed to attend. Fortkamp said that after DeWine announced that he would release guidelines on Tuesday, the Western Buckeye League scheduled a meeting for today.
"Hopefully, (the full set of guidelines) will be posted and we can all be on the same page and present a united front as what the WBL is doing so we're not out on a limb by ourselves," Fortkamp said.
One thing is for sure, the work the athletic directors have done already to get a schedule together isn't finished.
"We've got a lot of work to do now until Friday," said Fortkamp.
DeWine also said a decision on performing arts events, such as school plays, was coming this week and hinted they would be allowed with precautions such as moving audiences farther back.
It will be up to schools to police the limits on attendance at sporting events, but the Ohio High School Athletic Association will send site monitors to games, and schools found violating the governor's orders could forfeit games and face disqualification from further competition, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said.
Providing both students and coaches an incentive to keep playing by following protocols for limiting the spread of the coronavirus was one of the factors in allowing sports to proceed, said both DeWine and Husted, a former University of Dayton football player.
"Much like the sport you play, success of this opportunity lies with the execution of the game plan," said Husted, who worked closely with OHSAA officials to develop the plan. "Athletes, coaches and families must demonstrate the discipline to follow the rules so that they can protect themselves and teammates from the spread of the coronavirus."
To drive home this point, DeWine brought in Dr. James Borchers, an Ohio State University sports medicine doctor and a member of the OSU football team in the early 1990s. Borchers said decisions on whether children should play rest on how a community is responding to the pandemic.
"You have to take into account what's going in your local community, what's going on in your more extended community," Borchers said. "That's why it's so incumbent on all of us to do the best we can to prevent as much spread as possible."
DeWine said a recent dip in reported coronavirus numbers also played a factor in his decision. Ohio's daily reported case numbers have dropped in recent days, and are well below the seven-day average of slightly more than 1,000 confirmed cases.
However, the governor said rates are climbing in several rural counties.
The governor also warned that he could still reverse himself and shut down sports if coronavirus infection rates go "off the rails."
DeWine's decision comes as practice is underway at some schools and suspended at others out of concerns over spreading the coronavirus.
Ohio's largest district, Columbus, halted school sports and extracurricular activities as of Friday, citing the advice of local health officials and concerns about the continued spread of the coronavirus in the area.
Other districts, such as Upper Arlington in suburban Columbus, are allowing students in contact sports such as football to work out in small groups.
Dozens of states nationwide have delayed fall sports, and at least 15 won't play high school football this autumn, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
- Daily Standard sports writer Gary R. Rasberry contributed to this report.
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