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Local coaches readjust plans after OSAA delays high school sports till December

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

After a turbulent summer in which local coaches and athletic directors have had to continually re-adjust their plans for the fall, the Oregon School Activities Association announced last week that it has opted to schedule truncated winter, fall and spring seasons – in that order – with actual contests starting in the new calendar year and running through late June.
“This puts us on a new calendar that nobody has ever been on before,” said Lebanon High School Athletic Director Kraig Hoene.
Under the new schedule, the winter sports of basketball, wrestling and swimming can begin official practices Dec. 28, with their first contests Jan. 11 and culminating week March 1-7. Basketball teams will have 14-game regular seasons.
The fall sports of football, soccer, volleyball and cross country can start practicing Feb. 22 and will play their first contests March 8. All have culminating weeks of April 26 through May 2, except for football, which extends to May 3-9. Football will have a seven-game regular season.
The spring sports of baseball, softball, track, golf and tennis will begin practices April 19, play their first contests starting May 3 and have culminating weeks June 21-27. Baseball and softball teams will have 18-game regular seasons.
All of this is predicated on COVID-19 guidance from the Governor’s Office and Oregon Health Authority. According to current state rules, schools can’t open for in-person learning until the statewide COVID-19 testing rate is at or below 5 percent for three consecutive weeks and, locally, there are 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 people in a seven-day period.
Hoene said it will be imperative, for the OSAA plan to proceed, to get the county numbers to an acceptable level after some recent spikes in reported cases locally.
“We need a little bit of good news when the metrics come out,” he said. “Right now we’re in a pretty good spot if we can get the metrics to come around.”
Hoene said Lebanon has been careful.
“We have kids doing workouts inside and outside in masks, in pods of 10 inside, with social distancing. All of our coaches had to submit a plan for how their individual program would stay inside the guidelines.”
Athletes who want to lift weights are required to sign up for a time slot and they have to be present at that time or they can’t work out, he said.
OSAA’s goal was to “try to maximize opportunities for students, providing three distinct seasons for schools later in the year,” OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber  told Jerry Ulmer of OSAAToday.
Two weeks ago, the OSAA pushed back the first contest date of the fall season to Sept. 23, keeping the first date of fall practice at Aug. 17. But due to state restrictions for COVID-19, the vast majority of Oregon high schools will start the year with online learning, casting doubts on fall sports and activities.
By delaying the first practices until Dec. 28 and the first contests until Jan. 11, the OSAA is hopeful that more schools will have a chance to compete.
“Nearly all schools are going to have to spend a significant part of the fall in comprehensive distance learning,” Weber said, “and that will present challenges in terms of the ability to offer opportunities to students in some areas. So moving the season allows for those opportunities.”
Each sport will have a seven-week regular season followed by a “culminating week.” Weber said that the specifics of the culminating weeks are still to be determined.
“We’ll have to work with our membership on what that would look like. In our football contingency groups, they said that maybe that could be a bowl game. And that type of approach could be done in other activities, as well. We definitely wanted to leave room for the opportunity of some type of culminating event.”
Hoene said he likes that plan.
“It’s not like Nevada’s six-week plan,” he said. “I think the OSAA has done a very good job with it. With practices and a culminating week, you have a 10-week season. “
The period between Aug. 31 and Dec. 27 has been dubbed Season 1.
During that time sports and activities will be under the discretion of local schools and districts, and will be permitted, provided they fall in line with guidance from the Governor’s Office and OHA. OSAA policies regarding out-of-season coaching limitations will not apply, although other OSAA policies will remain in effect.
“We think that’s just as important,” Weber said of Season 1. “We’ll hopefully get kids an opportunity to get re-engaged and participating. We feel like it’s really important to their physical and mental health. That’s a big piece.”
Hoene said Lebanon is still trying to figure out what Season 1 is going to look like, with variables like potentially different responses to the OSAA plan by different districts, and different metrics from county to county. Plus, there are other costs.
“Let’s say, if we decided to do some sort of fall softball league, we’d still have to pay certified OSAA officials and we’d have to do contact tracing. Where does your district stand with kids from other districts coming in?
“We want to make sure we are doing things with fidelity and not just going to compete.”
Athletes from all sports could benefit from Season 1, especially those who missed out when spring sports were canceled, Weber said.
“They could train, they could have practice, and in some cases they could have contests against other schools in their local area or region,” Weber said. “We think it provides opportunities for kids to get back participating while preserving the seasons for later in the school year.”
Hoene said the high school athletic staff has responded positively to the challenges.
“We’re dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s. We’re making sure we’re following directions.
“I’m proud of my coaches, how they’re implemented stuff so far. We just want to make sure we’re doing things per guidelines.”