The Oregon School Activities Association’s executive board on Monday approved a plan to push back sports competition to early March. If the dates suggested on the latest calendar become a reality, Philomath High’s traditional fall sports teams could be the first to compete since both the boys and girls basketball teams defeated Phoenix in the first round of the state playoffs on March 7.
“It’s the best compromise that we’ve gotten so far, the best chance, in the state of Oregon,” Warriors boys basketball coach Blake Ecker said.
Coaches, athletes, parents and fans will continue to cling to the hope that competition will occur. The OSAA’s plan allows for programs to play six-week seasons. But with the state of the world right now in terms of high COVID-19 infection rates, it might be a long shot.
Said cross-country and track and field coach Joe Fulton, “It’s hard to imagine we’re going to be able to pull through and have seasons.”
The previous OSAA calendar showed practices for winter sports teams beginning Dec. 28 with the first competitions on Jan. 11. But as pandemic numbers worsened in November and into December and with most schools still in distance learning, nobody expected those timelines to materialize. In addition, the risk levels in various counties have remained extreme or high and restrictions on prohibited several activities have not been lifted by the state.
“While disappointed that we need to adjust our original schedule, we believe that keeping three distinct seasons, albeit in shortened seasons, maintains potential opportunities for all students moving forward,” said Peter Weber, OSAA executive director.
Philomath High Athletic Director Tony Matta has his doubts that all seasons are going to materialize.
“I think it’s a little bit of just kicking the can down the road,” Matta said. “They want to avoid dropping anything but at some point, seasons are going to have to go. There aren’t very many schools where you can run multiple seasons at the same time.”
Philomath High’s fall sports — football, boys and girls soccer, volleyball and cross-country — would begin playing games on the week of March 1-6. All of those programs except football would begin practices on Feb. 22.
Football, which as a safety precaution builds in extra practice time for athletes to become acclimated to the equipment and physical nature of the game, would begin workouts on Feb. 8.
“They didn’t push football to the end because there’s a concern about running football through the end or middle of June and then starting up again in August,” Matta said. “There’s some safety concerns there and it all makes sense when you think about the big picture of things, but again, the numbers are going to dictate whether that changes again or not.”
Among the traditional fall sports, cross-country and soccer are currently permitted by the state in all counties. Volleyball as an indoor sport can only be played in counties below the extreme risk category. Football, as a full-contact sport, remains on the governor’s prohibited list.
The spring sports would follow with baseball, softball, tennis, and track and field beginning competitions during the week of April 12-17. Practices for those sports would begin April 5, although pitchers and catchers could report early for baseball and softball on March 22.
At this time, all of those sports are permitted by state guidance as outdoor activities.
“The big change that I see is they moved track and field up so our season ends in May instead of late June and then have winter sports after that,” Fulton said, comparing the new plan to the previous OSAA calendar. “That really makes it tight for distance runners, especially. Because we begin practice on Feb. 22 and I’m guessing whatever culminating week means, it’s going to be fairly early in April at the same time we immediately start track.”
The winter sports were pushed back into late spring to give them better odds of happening since they’re indoor activities. Basketball, swimming and wrestling would begin practices on May 10 and then go into a season that begins the week of May 17-22 and continues into late June.
“For basketball, I think it’s fantastic,” Ecker said. “I think it gives us the most realistic opportunity to play — when you think about it and talk about a vaccine likely not out there until June or so or whatever. So I think, really, it’s great for us.”
Wrestling and basketball are currently prohibited as full-contact sports. Swimming is currently allowed indoors only in counties that are below the extreme risk metric.
The OSAA’s updated calendar shows periods of overlap. As Fulton mentioned, the fall sports will be wrapping up their seasons with a culminating week while the spring sports are beginning practice.
The most extreme example would be with baseball and softball, which can get started with pitchers and catchers on March 22 — three weeks before the end of fall sports. For a small school like Philomath, which features a lot of multi-sport athletes, that could lead to difficult choices for students.
“There’s some overlap but I think individual schools can deal with that,” Matta said. “Over the last seven or eight years, that overlap has become greater and greater anyway. We’ll deal with it if we get to that point.”
Matta said athletes moving from one season to the next would not be required to get in the standard nine days of practice before competing. However, any athletes participating for the first time would need to get in those required preseason workouts.
“The culminating week — who knows what that’s going to look like?” Matta said. “It’s not going to be state championships and so teams that want to participate in the culminating week, the individual schools, I think, will figure that piece out.”
Another factor to consider involves the timing of students returning to the classroom, at the very least in a hybrid model.
“That’s the other piece of it — are they at the point where they’re going to allow anybody in CDL (comprehensive distance learning) to compete?” Matta said. “The restrictions would have to lighten and then we’re tied to our county phase.”
In other words, there are still plenty of hoops to jump through before athletics can safely return.
“Nothing’s in stone … they pushed the winter sports all the way out to the end because three of those four right now are prohibited,” Matta said. “So they’re hoping by the time we get there, those will no longer be prohibited.”
The OSAA also revised the activities schedule to allow more time for school buildings to become accessible. Band, for example, was pushed back toward the end of the school year to provide an opportunity to rehearse in person if school district policy allows. Dance/drill and cheerleading culminating weeks were adjusted to allow more time for facilities to open or to increase the chances of good weather if they ended up moving outdoors.
Matta said there are questions with those groups, including the possibility of what it might look like to have virtual competitions if restrictions don’t lighten much in the county.
The executive board’s decision also extended Season 1 through Feb. 21 to allow training, workouts and even competitions to occur in those areas that are allowed by the state and local school districts.
Matta said he plans to meet with his coaches this coming Tuesday via Zoom to talk about what to do with the rest of Season 1.
“If they give us an opportunity to practice, we’ll do it,” Fulton said. “The kids love it; that’s what they need. They need to be outside breathing fresh air and staying healthy.”
The board plans to revisit participation limitations for all seasons, out-of-season coaching policies and the need for further decisions as a result of updated state guidance or changing risk level metrics at upcoming work sessions.
OSAA CALENDAR • Football: Feb. 8-28 (practice), March 1-April 4 (season), April 5-11 (culminating week)
• Cross-country, soccer, volleyball: Feb. 22-28 (practice), March 1-April 4 (season), April 5-11 (culminating week)
• Baseball, softball: March 22-April 4 (pitchers/catchers), April 5-11 (practice), April 12-May 16 (season), May 17-23 (culminating week)
• Tennis, track and field: April 5-11 (practice), April 12-May 16 (season), May 17-23 (culminating week)
• Dance/drill: April 19-May 2 (season), May 3-9 (culminating week)
• Cheer: April 26-May 9 (season), May 10-16 (culminating week)
• Basketball, swimming, wrestling: May 10-16 (practice), May 17-June 20 (season), June 21-27 (culminating week)
• Choir, band: May 10-23 (season), May 24-30 (culminating week)
Note: Culminating week is the term used by the OSAA that represents a possible postseason contest.