Orange schools took a 180-degree turn from no athletics through the fall semester to returning to the practice fields on Monday.
After the Cuyahoga County Board of Health recommended remote-only education and the cessation of extracurriculars and athletics for the start of the school year, Orange Superintendent Lynn Campbell needed to hear no more at that time.
Campbell’s initial reaction was to comply with the July 30 guidance from the CCBH, with local health departments given the authority from the Ohio Department of Health to make decisions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.
The next day, Campbell wrote to families in his district to inform them that Orange schools will be fully remote through the first semester – which ends Dec. 18, 2020 – and that sports would cease activities during that time.
But like everything else during the COVID-19 pandemic, 180-degree turns appear to be the new norm in the fluid pandemic environment.
On Aug. 12, two days after Orange parents and students expressed their wishes for athletics to resume during a regular board of education meeting, Campbell wrote another letter to announce that the district would reverse course and return to practices on Aug. 17.
“Summer sports workouts continued on campus with over 200 student-athletes advancing through the three phases established by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, also without a COVID-19 incident,” Campbell said. “Furthermore, many students and families have expressed the need for these programs.
“Unlike schooling, which consists of a couple of thousand students and hundreds of adults interacting within the confines of classrooms and hallways, these activities will consist of a small subset of participants, with the bulk of time spent outside, a much less likely place for transmission of COVID-19.
“Therefore, after consulting with our athletic director, considering guidance from the Ohio Department of Health and the OHSAA and listening to input from parents, I have decided to resume Orange High School fall sports and related extracurricular activities, including band and Lionettes.”
Campbell also said that Orange will continue to require its coaches, staff and student-athletes to adhere to the safety protocols that were well-established during summer workouts and that the district will move forward one step at a time by monitoring program success and the health and wellbeing of students and staff.
Orange Athletic Director Katie Hine said there has been a positive reaction from the community with the announcement to return of fall sports activities.
“Like any community, our community members have concerns about the health and safety of the people around them,” she said. “So, we wanted to make sure that, when we do return, we’re doing it in a way that we’re maintaining that health and safety and we’re putting that at the forefront. That’s the No. 1 thing that we’re considering.
“And the end-all goal is to make sure that our student-athletics are able to connect with their peers and their coaches on a daily basis and have that social and emotional well-being aspect really taken care of.”
As of this week, Orange is giving the low-contact sports of golf and tennis the go-ahead to start competitions. The OHSAA official seasons in those two sports began the first week of August.
Meanwhile, cross-country, field hockey, football, soccer and volleyball are only OK’d to practice for Orange student-athletes. From June 8 through July 30, summer workouts for those sports were a success and therefore are able to return to various phases of practice, Hine said.
“We’re still working on some logistics for cross-country,” Hine said about transitioning it from a practice-only sport to a competition sport. “We want to make sure that, before we commit to anything, that we have just all logistics stated out to ensure a healthy environment. And then, obviously, our contact sports, we’re just practicing right now.”
The Ohio Department of Health and Gov. Mike DeWine classified volleyball as a low-contact sport in July and cross-country as a low-contact sport in early August. As a result, the OHSAA gave a green light to competitions for those sports, as well as golf and tennis.
But some schools continue to weigh the safety protocols of returning to indoor sports like volleyball, as well as the shoulder-to-shoulder clusters associated with cross-country.
Over at Kenston, the Bombers canceled their eighth edition of the Frank Gibas Cross-Country Invitational that was scheduled for Sept. 5, while Gilmour Academy cross-country canceled its 61st annual Paul Primeau Invitational that was scheduled for Oct. 2.
If the OHSAA can work with athletic directors and cross-country coaches to adjust some of the racing logistics, like incorporating an interval start rather than a mad dash from a boxed-in gun start, then that sport could be right back in the mix for competitions at Orange.
But when it comes to competitions for field hockey, football, soccer and volleyball, which Orange considers contact sports, a lot weighs on where the ODH and Gov. DeWine stand with their directives, Hine said.
Those contact sports, in addition to all other fall sports, were approved for competitions by Gov. DeWine on Tuesday.
“Even if we were allowed to start competing, we’re going to have a delayed competition schedule,” Hine said. “We wouldn’t start right away.”
Hine said she doesn’t foresee any of those four contact sports beginning competitions before Sept. 7.
For football, which the OHSAA has already laid the groundwork for a a shortened, six-game regular season, that means the Lion gridders would most likely have a four-week football campaign before the playoffs start on Oct. 9, Hine said.
Preparing for the best circumstances, Orange is already piecing together schedules for a delayed start to contact sports, including a home football game against Chagrin Falls at 7 p.m. Sept. 25.
“But we’re not guaranteed that we’ll compete,” Hine said. “We’re really taking it week by week and seeing how everything is going and making sure that our biggest priority is safety. So far as our competitions go for those sports, you won’t see any before Labor Day.”