Governor’s announcement opens door for football, volleyball in Lebanon

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local
High school sports are back in Lebanon.
After 11 months of near-inactivity, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Kate Brown gave a provisional thumbs-up to the return of athletic competition for Lebanon and other schools around the state.
Brown announced Wednesday, Feb. 10, that the Oregon Health Authority would revise its guidance for outdoor sports, as well as its exemption for college athletics, which have been severely curtailed in Oregon.
“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,” the governor said.
“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.”
Beginning this week, outdoor contact sports will be permitted to resume with health and safety protocols in place, based on county risk level.
In Lower Risk and Moderate Risk counties, practices and games for outdoor contact sports, including high school football, can resume following health and safety guidance to be issued by the Ore-gon Health Authority.
Coaches and athletic directors were waiting for additional directives as Lebanon Local went to press late in the week.
In High Risk and Extreme Risk counties, where COVID-19 remains more widespread, schools and other sports organizations can opt-in to resuming outdoor contact sports 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.
Linn County was moved to High Risk, from Extreme Risk, on Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Lebanon High School Athletic Director Kraig Hoene called the shift “better news than we’ve had for a while.”
The announcement opened the door for both football and volleyball, which are considered “contact” sports by the Oregon Student Activities Association, which regulates high school sports in the state.

Linemen Kyle Forrester, Evan Peters, Seth McCord and Dominic Fernandez. Beind them are Trayvin Evans and Pablo Gonzalez-Solis.

Lebanon football players were allowed to practice starting Monday, Feb. 8, in non-contact drills. Prior to the governor’s announcement, the OSAA Executive Board had ruled that football teams in High and Extreme Risk counties, where full contact wasn’t allowed, would have options of playing 7×7, flag, virtual lineman challenge and virtual combine.
Lebanon volleyball players had been shut down entirely from school activities in their sport, Hoene said.
The governor’s announcement means volleyball Coach Jorden Swanson can “start to crank it back up,” he said.
Kellen Peters, athletic director at East Linn Christian Academy, said the change in status for Linn County opens up volleyball activity for the Eagles, though other teams in the 2A-division Central Valley Conference are not cleared.
He said that “opting in” is difficult for smaller schools, particularly if teams were to play during a different season.
“Any school with softball is going to have a hard time fielding volleyball and softball at the same time,” he said. “We don’t plan on moving volleyball if we can’t play it. If we stay in High (Risk), we’ll find some games.”
Lebanon High school cross-country and soccer, which have already been conducting informal workouts, and volleyball are scheduled to begin practice Feb. 22 for the six-week “fall sports” season that is set to start March 1 and run through April 4, with a possible playoffs week after that.
The governor made it clear that the onus will be on kids and coaches as the new policies take effect.
“To all of Oregon’s high school athletes: I am asking you now to be leaders in your communities,” Brown said. “We’ve given you the chance to play, but with that opportunity comes great responsibility. If COVID-19 numbers spike, we may have to shut down contact sports again. When you are off the field, set the example for your peers: wear a mask, maintain physical distance, and avoid social gatherings.
“It is not lost on me that this decision today will allow high school football to resume, when too many high school classrooms across Oregon remain empty.
“To all the parents of student athletes and coaches who have called and emailed me in the last year asking for school sports to resume, I am challenging you now to devote your energy to making sure in-person academics can resume for your kids, too.
“If our school gyms, fields, and weight rooms are to reopen, we owe it to Oregon’s children to make sure our classrooms, libraries, and science labs fully reopen as well.”
Hoene said he and coaches would be meeting with athletes “to make sure everybody’s doing things the right way. All it’s going to take – and the governor’s statement was pretty clear – is kids not doing it the right way and everything’s going to blow up.”
One challenge for the Warriors is going to be scheduling, since only Linn County has moved to High Risk. Benton, Polk and Marion counties, where other teams in the Mid-Willamette Conference are located, are still in the Extreme Risk category.
“We were hoping Benton and Polk would get there, Hoene said. “They didn’t quite make it. That could be a problem with us moving forward.”
He said that additional guidelines from the OHA “can change some of that – what you can and can’t do in your risk county level.”
More guidance could also come from the OSAA Executive Board, which is next scheduled to meet on Wednesday, Feb. 17, in a work session.
All of Lebanon’s fall sports teams have schedules, but cross-country, in particular, will see differences since OSAA guidelines do not allow more than two teams at a meet. Typically, cross-country events involve multiple – often large numbers – of teams.
“We’re trying to figure out guidance since we can only have two schools per event. Instead of hosting one meet per year, we may have to do three or four.”
Peters, who also coaches cross-country at ELCA, said he’s hoping OSAA changes the dual meet requirement, noting that the organization has gotten “a lot of emails” from schools upset with the restriction on cross-country and other individual sports.
“OSAA said they are really working on trying to get that changed,” he said. “If you’re a small school and you only have three wrestlers, and you go against another school that has 10, seven of those wrestlers don’t get to compete.”