Fate of High School Sports Remains Unclear

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tualatin high school football, Lake Oswego High School,
As it stands, by the current OHA guidance, high school football is prohibited and will not be played in its Feb. 22 scheduled fall season. (HENRY KAUS/TUALATIN LIFE)

As student-athletes throughout the Tigard-Tualatin School District (TTSD) attend practices and workouts through the winter, the fate of high-school sports remains unclear and many activities axed under current state guidance.

Before the start of the current school year, the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) designated four new sports seasons for 2020-21: a practice season, winter sports starting Dec. 28, fall sports starting Feb. 22 and spring sports starting Apr. 16.

However, given the Dec. 3 updated COVID-19 guidance provided by the governor’s office and the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), many sports remain on hold entering 2021.

In response, the original seasons’ start-dates have been shifted past January to preserve a chance at school participation. Seasons have also been shrunk from seven weeks to six, including one preceding practice week, and an opt-in culminating week which will take the place of playoffs and championships. The new dates are:

  • Practice Season: Present – Feb. 21
  • Fall Sports: Feb. 22 – Mar. 11
  • Spring Sports: Apr. 5 – May 23
  • Winter Sports: May 10 – June 27

Previously, whether a school could compete in certain sports was determined by the school district’s type of learning. Along with Oregon’s shift from phases to risk levels, K-12 sports participation is now based solely on county risk-level.

Indoor sports are permitted in lower risk, moderate risk and high risk counties with outdoor sports allowed through all risk levels. One caveat being that full-contact sports are prohibited no matter the risk level. Full-contact sports including football, basketball, wrestling, men’s lacrosse, rugby, contact cheer and contact dance will not take place. However, training and conditioning for these sports is still permitted.

Since Washington County is currently classified as extreme risk, indoor sports such as swimming, water polo and volleyball also won’t be able to play when their respective seasons begin.

To see updates and current information on county risk levels, visit tinyurl.com/risk-level-guidance.

Nonetheless, practices and workouts have mostly continued as long as COVID-19 precautions were taken.

“The main [precautions] are sanitizing equipment, wearing masks and maintaining social distance as much as possible,” said Tualatin baseball Head Coach Jake Austin. “I would say that masks have affected things the most. We have had to add more water breaks and things to help with the stresses of wearing a mask during physical activity.”

Football practices have also been challenging.

“End of September, beginning of October, we ran practices non-contact, and we were able to use a football,” added Tualatin football Head Coach Daniel Lever. “So, we were able to get a lot more out of it. But it’s still a long way from the game we all love.”

Many individuals remember their high school experiences for their friends and social interactions, most of which have been abandoned while students spend the majority of their day at home in distance-learning.

“During quarantine and everything, we couldn’t really be around our friends that we used to be with every day,” said Tualatin junior Cole Prusia, who plays football. “And so just getting back out there with them [in practice] and doing what we love to do, it was super good for us.”

Another Tualatin football athlete, senior Jake Alton, expressed similar sentiments.

“We’re so captivated in our homes that we haven’t really been able to do much at all,” Alton said. “And without sports, I mean, I’m at my house 20 hours a day and get out only every once in a while.”

High school sports remain an unending tradition in the eyes of young athletes. Some have participated since their early elementary school years.

“Playing a sport allows you to create unique bonds with people,” Prusia said. “And it also just gives me a chance to exercise, and I know there’s a lack of exercise in young teens.”

With the idea that sports can have a major impact on teens, more than 600 high school sports coaches across Washington, Oregon and California have come together, forming the West Coast Coaching Alliance. They hope to start the Fall spots season in the first half of 2021.

Some of the coaches involved are Lever, John Kemper of Tigard High School Football, Steve Coury of Lake Oswego High School Football, Jimmy Joyce of Canby High School Football, Matt Bain of Santiam Christian School Football and many more.

Their goal? To get the ears of state officials – specifically the Governor’s office and the OHA.

“Our kids don’t have a voice right now,” Lever said. “So we’re trying to be the voice to advocate for our kids to ensure that they can live a quality of life here, because that’s what we’re talking about.”

Compared to the rest of the country, Oregon remains one of the 17 states that didn’t have a fall sports season this year. Lever said many other states have had success in continuing athletics without many issues and that Oregon should follow suit when the seasons are set to begin.

If the sports seasons can continue, modifications would have to be put in place. This could include permitting fewer fans, distancing between athletes, and the wearing of masks between athletes and coaches including while performing.

“All of us coaches, all the kids, we’re willing to take the precautions necessary to play within reason,” Lever said. “We’ve done that successfully [in practices] this July. We did it through September and October with no issues whatsoever.”