Once thought to be in grave danger this season, high school sports have an opportunity to succeed.
If you surveyed parents, coaches, and students just one month ago, you would likely have uncovered guarded optimism that varsity athletics would occur, as well as an overarching fear that such hopefulness was a just pipe dream.
But the season is here now, with many teams’ first games taking place today and this weekend, and the Ohio High School Athletic Association is choosing to not shut down sports statewide. The governing body ruled last week that field hockey, soccer, and football teams may have games against other schools. 60 football teams, however, have paused or opted out of a season due to COVID-19.
Although there is both anticipation and relief for competition to get underway, the sports themselves will look strange.
In football alone, everyone from coaches to game workers to spectators must always wear facial coverings, excluding the 22 players on the field. Halftimes will be shortened. The stadium itself will only be permitted to hold 15 percent of the venue’s normal permanent seating capacity.
Referees will rarely handle the pigskin, as the offense will hold the ball during their pre snap huddle. To mark the spot, the umpire will place an orange bean bag at the ball. And say goodbye to pregame and postgame handshakes.
These changes are meant to keep everyone safe and to keep schools on the field for as long as possible, according to Governor Mike DeWine.
“I hope also that our coaches will use this an opportunity to focus on helping these young people understand what really is at stake. If they are going to be able to play, that they are going to have to do everything they can to keep COVID out of their team.”
It’s clear that outbreaks across teams will spell disaster for a team’s ability to finish the season on their own terms. That is why inspectors will attend games to ensure a checklist of safety protocols are being followed.
Can this tall task of safely holding fall sporting events truly be carried out? Only time will tell.