Better late than never.
While the Ohio High School Athletic Association is still moving forward with official practices for fall sports scheduled to begin Aug. 1, member school athletic directors received a survey from the association on Monday.
The survey is intended to help assist the OHSAA board of directors in determining possible changes to the fall sports season based on future mandates or permissions set forth by the state government or Ohio Department of Health in regards to a safe return to play amid the ongoing concerns associated with the coronavirus.
Although many athletic directors welcome the opportunity to provide their input, the question arises as to why OHSAA administrators didn’t seek out that input from its member schools sooner.
“We would always be happy for someone to ask us for our input, especially the state,” Solon athletic director Jim McQuaide said. “So, that was a huge positive. I would say, probably like most people, the issue is that everyone’s under the gun with this Aug. 1 deadline of supposedly starting. So, it would have been nice if we were giving that input earlier. But I’m sure it’s not earth-shattering for me to say that.”
In addition to trying to solve the equation for athletics with unprecedented hurdles, the folks at the OHSAA underwent a self-inflicted change earlier this month when the board of directors voted to force out Jerry Snodgrass from his executive director position and replace him with interim executive director Bob Goldring, as announced July 6.
Also earlier this month, three of OHSAA’s fall sports were declared by Gov. Mike DeWine as low-contact sports, including boys and girls golf, girls tennis and volleyball, meaning those sports have the green light to have competitions between schools.
Other fall sports, including cross-country, field hockey, soccer and football have yet to be approved by the governor for competitions between schools.
On July 14, Goldring said, as the OHSAA moves forward with plans to carry out a fall sports season, member schools ultimately will determine which sports they sponsor, which is no different than any other year.
But it wasn’t until two weeks later – five days before official practices were scheduled to start – that the folks at the OHSAA reached out to member school athletic directors asking for their input.
“Yes, I’m glad the OHSAA sent a questionnaire, but I think it could have been done a lot sooner,” Hawken School athletic director Jim Doyle said. “It’s been quite stressful, and, obviously, we have a lot of concerns with the restart and being aligned in what we’re doing in schools, and being part of the solution to bring numbers down in Ohio. I think we all have to do our part.”
Some of the key focuses in the OHSAA survey include asking preferences on a variety of scenarios, ranging from playing both low-contact and contact sports; beginning all programs as planned or delaying starts; flipping some fall and spring sports; holding full regular seasons with reduced tournaments, vice versa, or one or the other; and if athletes have tested positive for coronavirus during summer workouts.
Waiting until July 27 to send out the survey speaks volumes about the confusion everyone has on what’s the proper decision to make in regards to high school athletics, Gilmour Academy athletic director Sean O’Toole said.
“Obviously, the OHSAA is trying to secure as much information as they can, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “The only thing I know and we all know is right is what’s the best safety situation for our student-athletes. As long as we can provide a safe facility, a safe opportunity for them to compete, let’s go.
“And if for some reason someone says it’s not safe for student-athletes, obviously, there’s a lot of options they asked us about in terms of delaying the start a few weeks, a month, and then there was the cancel option. Again, nobody wants to cancel. What everyone is trying to do is make the best-informed decision.”
O’Toole said he puts his trust in the Ohio Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and all the other powers to be that understand what is best and safe for student-athletes and coaches.
He also said he and his peers simply want direction from the OHSAA with how member schools should proceed, and right now that message is that high school athletics are proceeding on Aug. 1.
“Getting feedback is always good,” O’Toole said of the survey. “But sometimes I feel like this shouldn’t be a popularity contest, because we need educated decisions. And I trust doctors and organizations that know what’s best, as far as this season is concerned, for our student-athletes.”
In addition to the OHSAA survey, Hawken and the other 22 members of the Chagrin Valley Conference were forming their own questionnaire earlier this week to better align their return-to-play plans locally.
Last week, the Ashtabula County Health Department recommended that its schools do not travel outside of the county to play athletic events, which included four member schools of the CVC: Edgewood, Geneva, Grand Valley and Lakeside. The CVC also includes schools in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake and Portage counties.
“Northeast Ohio is a pretty wide range of populations and demographics, as well as urban, suburban and rural, and the CVC is all of that in five counties,” Doyle said. “So, it’s hard to make a decision, and it’s unprecedented. And I empathize with that and the folks at the OHSAA. This is a hard thing to consider. But there are a lot of people with concerns and a lot of people wondering how we’re going to pull this off. And there are a lot of unanswered questions still.”
All three athletic directors said their districts have remained cautious during their optional summer workouts and continue to follow the guidelines set forth by OHSAA and state government officials.
What the 2020 fall sports season will look like in Ohio remains to be seen, but making modifications when parameters change is something people experience in all aspects of life, McQuaide said.
“I think the No. 1 thing that we talk about is being willing and able to adapt and adjust. That’s what we have to do,” he said. “It’s all about our athletes, our students; so we’ll try to do whatever we can to adapt and adjust to the curveballs that are thrown our way.
“And, right now, we’re doing fine. Our kids are working hard. We’re trying to keep them as safe as possible with all the temperatures and questionnaires and social distancing. We’re just trying to give them some hope that we might have a chance to have some type of competition.”