Gio Abdelsayed and Tony Matta in football practice
PHS coach Tony Matta watches sophomore Gio Abdelsayed in a lineman drill on Tuesday. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath High School football program received encouraging news this week with the governor’s office announcing that the Oregon Health Authority will revise its guidance for outdoor contact sports. Thus, restrictions will be eased for schools that have returned to at least limited in-person learning.

PHS largely remains in distance learning, but the district has been offering limited in-person instruction.

“It opens the door for playing full-contact regular football,” PHS football coach Tony Matta said. “They don’t have the specifics of what the protocols will look like yet but we know that it opens the door.”

From a statewide perspective, teams that began no-contact workouts this week can move on to contact practices next week and then start the season on March 1 — as long as requirements and protocols are met.

Philomath High’s season opener is scheduled as March 5 at Scio.

Benton County remains in the “extreme risk” category and PHS can opt-in to playing football with additional protocols in place.

“In such counties, sports organizations must offer on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19,” a press release issued by the governor’s office on Wednesday states.

“We’re excited to get more kids back to participating,” OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber said. “We need to get the details to sift through so then we can provide some guidance to the schools.”

Matta, who said he told players the good news at practice Wednesday, said protocols will likely include things like wearing masks on the sidelines.

“It talked about being able to offer on-site self-administered testing, so obviously there’s some logistics we have to deal with,” Matta said, calling the situation “hopeful” for the Warriors to be able to play.

The governor’s office press release also stated that for schools in extreme and high risk counties, they “must also have at least limited in-person instruction occurring, with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year. Schools must also be in compliance with state guidance for COVID-19 testing.”

All Oregon counties currently meet the COVID-19 case count advisory metrics for limited in-person instruction.

“This has been a difficult year for Oregon’s youth athletes and, as our COVID-19 numbers have dropped, I have been committed to working with our health experts to re-evaluate our protocols for sports,” said Gov. Kate Brown said in the press release. “School sports play an important role in fostering students’ mental, emotional and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families and their communities.”

The announcement does not impact indoor sports and strict restrictions remain in place for volleyball.

“As long as we remain in the extreme category, we’re super limited for the indoor activities,” Matta said.

The Oregon School Activities Association is waiting for more information from the state, primarily for schools like Philomath in an extreme risk county.

“We need to figure out what those schools need to do,” Weber said in an OSAAtoday story. “To opt in, what does that look like? And how can we assist our schools in making that happen? We need the details when those are out there so we can put it into place.”

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