PENDLETON — One plan leads to another, but the Oregon School Activities Association has not given up on trying to put together an athletic calendar for its nearly 300 member schools.
The OSAA released an update July 22 on its plan to bring sports back to schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest information pushes back the start date of fall sports to Sept. 23. The original start date was Aug. 27. The first fall practices remain Aug. 17, for the time being.
The one fall sport that still is in limbo is football. Football is considered a full-contact activity per the Gov. Kate Brown’s and Oregon Health Authority guidelines and is currently prohibited.
The move allows the board more time to gain guidance from the state, which it hopes to have in time for another round of meetings set to take place the first week of August, according to OSAA Executive Director Peter Weber.
Weber pointed not only to the state’s guidance, but also to decisions being made by other states and what schools in Oregon plan to do for the fall as factors.
“A lot of these decisions that are being made, we’re not making,” he said. “They’re within the state level.”
California already moved its fall schedule to the beginning of 2021, and Washington has moved a portion of its schedule — including football — to the spring.
The release indicated that if fall sports aren’t able to be held, the committee would work with its contingency groups to shift, condense or stack seasons with the objective of providing student-athletes an opportunity to play.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on July 21 revealed a modified 2020-21 sports calendar that shifts football and volleyball to Session 3, which begins in March.
That model is one that Irrigon Athletic Director and girls basketball coach Mike Royer is a fan of.
“I like what Washington did,” Royer said. “Even if it’s a short season with just league games, it gives them a season. I feel terrible for our senior athletes.”
Elgin Athletic Director Jeff Rysdam is among those on board with any option that gets athletes playing — even if it came down to, at the worst, having teams play just local teams without a postseason.
It’s a model he knows, as Elgin for about five years played an independent schedule for football with a full regular season schedule but no postseason option.
“I’d like to see them do something where each league decides how the seasons go,” he said. “(Even) if it means giving up a postseason and playing an independent schedule — as long as the kids are playing.”
One of the concerns for Rysdam, who also is the EHS football coach, is what would happen if a delay or move of the fall to winter or spring leads to a major overlap in sports.
“I don’t see how it could work in a small school like Elgin, Imbler or (North) Powder,” he said. “Our football team is usually on the basketball team, basketball team is on the track team. Are kids going to have to pick and choose? Unless they’ve got something up their sleeve, how (could) they overlap it and maintain it?”
A decision of that level, though, is still a ways down the road, and for the time being a start date for the other fall sports does bring some normalness and hope.
“I am glad there can be a sense of normalcy. Talking to one of our senior cross-country runners and she was worried about her season,” he said. “Now she has something to look forward to.”
La Grande Athletic Director Darren Goodman also is of the mindset of doing whatever is necessary to get a season for athletes, but also understands the need for a cautious approach.
“I think you can’t fault anybody for erring on the side of safety these days,” he said. “Kids’ health, kids’ safety has always been the No. 1 priority. You don’t want to be in that chair making that decision, but you respect the people who are.”
Goodman, like Rysdam, is hoping the season can be set up in a way that doesn’t result in athletes having to pick between sports, as La Grande also has a plethora of multi-sport athletes.
“I honestly would like to see us start later and shorten seasons, but get all three seasons in,” he said. “I think we legitimately could start winter sports on time by then, then fit spring and fall in there.
“A school like La Grande, where we depend on kids to play two or three sports, you can’t expect a kid to play football and baseball at the same time.”
Rysdam noted that the fluid nature of the situation surrounding the pandemic adds to the challenge, which was a point Royer also noted.
“I understand it is hard for them to make a solid decision because things change so fast,” Royer said. “I expect things to change again. At this point, I am not very optimistic, especially with football and volleyball. The OSAA has a tough job right now.”
Weber said ideally, if OSAA has its input from the state by its August meetings with regard to schools and other policies, the board could make a decision that week on what the season looks like.
OSAA also hasn’t named a “drop-dead” date on when it has to make a decision on whether to play the season or not, Weber said. And while the delay granted the entity additional time, that deadline is approaching.
“We’ve been hesitant to say we are going to decide by this point,” Weber said. “We know that day is coming upon us soon.”
EOMG East Region Sports Editor Ronald Bond contributed to this report.