Fall sports have been in limbo throughout the summer as programs awaited an official stance from Governor Mike DeWine on the ability to play contact sports during the upcoming school year.
The decision was finally made on Tuesday as DeWine announced those sports would be permitted to play —with limits on attendance — beginning this week.
Ultimately, however, DeWine’s announcement put the onus on individual school districts to make the best decision for themselves. For the Olentangy Local School District (OLSD), that decision is to move forward with business as semi-usual.
“With regard to everything, we’re going to follow orders and then make decisions based on the recommendations that we feel are in the best interest of our students and staff,” OLSD Superintendent Mark Raiff told The Gazette. “The governor has permitted contact and non-contact sports, so since they’re permitted and we’re following all of the safety protocols, we’re going to try to press forward with it, just like we’re trying to press forward with in-person learning.”
Testing of student-athletes is not required through the season, and Raiff said the athletes throughout Olentnagy would not be tested. Asked if the decision not to test was a matter of the district not having the means, Raiff said it was a matter of the state not having the means with tests difficult to come by. He acknowledged there would also be the issue of administering and paying for what would be a considerable amount of tests.
Without any testing protocols in place, the district is making its best effort to ensure the safety of its athletes based on the guidelines of the Delaware General Health District, while also putting considerable faith in its athletes to handle their business with maturity outside of sports.
“There are a lot of things we can do to control social distancing and sanitization and all of the health guidelines that are required and recommended while they’re with us,” Raiff said. “But we can’t control what they do when they’re not with us, so we’re going to continue to stress to our student-athletes the importance of following all the guidelines so that we can try to limit the number of cases and continue to have sports.”
Raiff confirmed 11 student-athletes throughout the district have tested positive for COVID-19 since July. Most recently, four volleyball players at Olentangy Orange High School have tested positive, and the reality of contact sports is that there are sure to be more as competition begins.
Raiff said that given the athletes have been training together since June, 11 cases is a relatively positive figure. He added the district feels strongly those who have tested positive weren’t exposed to the virus within the environments of the district, but rather as they come in contact with those outside of their respective programs.
“I think there is an inherent risk in all of it, that is certain,” Raiff said. “I think the people that are most risk-averse have chosen to do the full remote learning for the first semester. Others are less risk-averse and are choosing to send their kids for in-person learning and allowing them to participate in extra-curricular activities … I think you balance out the value of participation in those activities that are a benefit to their social and emotional wellbeing with the risk of contracting the virus.”
Raiff said he’s unsure the district would ever be able to tell if a student contracted the virus as a result of participation in school-related activities, exposure to another student who is participating, or activities outside of school.
“I think, right now, we’re managing it well,” Raiff said. “People understand their responsibility, and we’re stressing hard with the kids that if they want to have a season, it’s up to them to follow the social distancing guidelines and behave appropriately.”
Raiff said he is already hearing from some in the district who want to know why sports are permitted to continue while in-person classes aren’t allowed for all five days. He said he completely understands the frustration some have with the guidelines that have been put in place, but the district still must implement those guidelines.
As for those who question the necessity of sports to the schools during these unique circumstances, and the risks associated with them, Raiff said, “They’re an integral piece of our total academic program. The social and emotional value of interscholastic athletics to our kids, I don’t know that you can measure it. They’re an important part of educating the whole child, and as long as we’re allowed to have (sports), I think it’s important to give kids that opportunity.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.