DeWine gives contact sports green light

By Ben Stroup -

As expected, Governor Mike DeWine gave the green light for contact sports to be played in Ohio this fall during Tuesday’s press conference … even if his tone made it sound more like a yellow one.

“I hope that the desire to have a season will inspire our young people, our athletes, our student-athletes, 24/7 to be as careful as they can,” DeWine said. “I hope also that our coaches will use this as an opportunity to focus on helping these young people understand what really is at stake. If they are going to be able to play, they are going to have to do everything they can to keep COVID out of their team.”

The Ohio High School Athletic Association has done a lot to sway the decision in the athletes’ favor, announcing a major alteration to the football schedule and several additional safety protocols. Now those athletes — whether they play non-contact sports like golf, tennis, cross country and volleyball, or contact ones like football, soccer and field hockey — will have a chance. That, the OHSAA said, is all anyone wanted.

“The OHSAA is moving forward because we want kids to have an opportunity to participate, and the Governor’s Office is providing that opportunity and a chance,” said Bob Goldring, OHSAA Interim Executive Director. “So for that we are most appreciative. It’s important to remember that our student-athletes have been practicing and training with others for weeks and even months, and it has gone well. So, we believe they deserve the chance to move forward.”

While DeWine announced he’ll sign a new Ohio Department of Health order that permits contact sports to move forward with games against other schools, he said the ultimate decision — to play or not to play — will be up to the individual school districts and the players’ families.

It’s a sentiment the OHSAA echoed as playing does present some amount of risk.

“COVID-19 certainly has created a risk factor, and that is something on which each family has to decide for their student, and each local school district has to make decisions on moving forward based on all the information they have been presented,” Goldring said. “But we also believe our student-athletes, coaches and school administrators — in education-based programs — are suited to be the best advocates for safety, strongly promoting and following mandates and recommendations to wear facial coverings, stay socially distanced and so forth.

“Our coaches, especially, are role models to so many of our student-athletes. So hopefully our student-athletes will follow their lead and guidance, especially when they talk to students about what to consider away from school.”

DeWine said coaches, while always important, will have even bigger roles this fall.

“To the coaches, you, in a normal year, inspire, you mentor, you instruct, you instill discipline and self-discipline in your student-athletes. For all of that, we are very grateful for what you do,” he said. “You make a lot of sacrifices, work long hours and you inspire our kids. We thank you very much for that. But this year, it’s going to take more. It’s going to be inspiring them in regards to the goal of keeping COVID out of their team.”

The other big announcement that came out of Tuesday’s press conference was that spectator capacity for the games will be limited. Parents and other close family members and loved ones will likely be allowed to attend, but that’s about it.

The amount of players teams can dress will also be limited. Based on guidance from the Governor’s Office, the OHSAA announced the limits will be 60 for football, 22 for soccer and field hockey and 15 for volleyball.

Additionally, marching bands will be allowed to perform, but only at home contests.

By Ben Stroup