For high school programs, there is no ‘one answer for all’ for playing games

DAYTON – High school athletic directors have one thing in common this winter sports season – trying to provide their students-athletes, coaches and staff with a safe and positive experience despite the COVID-19 pandemic. How to do that has seen a variety of responses.

“It’s not a one-answer-for-all situation,” said Victoria Jones, Executive Director of Athletics for the Dayton Public Schools. “… Trust the leadership and trust the decisions that are made hopefully will be in the best interest of everyone impacted. But it’s definitely a different level of stress. The unknown makes it complicated.”

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The COVID-19 pandemic brought a premature end to last season’s winter sports schedule, cancelling regional and/or state championship tournaments. It also cancelled all of the spring sports season. ADs, along with administrators and staff, are trying not to let the same thing happen this time.

Several school districts have delayed or paused their seasons, but are not considering cancelling them.

Centerville idled all sports from Nov. 27 through Thursday. That means no practices or training of any kind and all athletic facilities are closed. The Elks can resume practices on Wednesday and start playing games on Friday.

National Trail plans to resume all sports on or shortly after Thursday.

Fairmont postponed all extra-curricular activities for two weeks, ending on Friday. Teams can resume practice with games starting Dec. 18.

Wayne will allow teams to return to practice on Monday and resume games on Dec. 14.

Trotwood-Madison shut down sports and all facilities until Dec. 14 as well. Oakwood has paused winter sports through Dec. 18.

The Dayton Public Schools halted all classes, as well as athletics, for a six-week period that ends Jan. 4.

“I truly believe ADs are all doing the best we can with the information we have to provide the safest environments for our students athletes to train and compete,” Fairmont AD Chris Weaver said. “The reality is this isn’t enough. Teams are continuing to be quarantined due to exposure and close contact, and I don’t see this slowing down any time soon. Especially over the holidays where families are traveling and gathering together outside of their bubble. Who knows what the ‘perfect’ way to handle this pandemic is, but I know we’re making decisions with health and safety as the priority.”

The majority of schools in the Miami Valley continue to play sports with safeguards in place. At basketball games players are assigned their own chair that is social distanced from teammates, when gym space allows. Masks are mandatory for athletes not in the game and for all spectators. Designated attendants take care of towels and water for officials during breaks. Crews disinfect chairs and bench areas at halftime and between reserve and varsity games. Bleacher handrails are also disinfected.

Post-game handshakes have also been eliminated. Instead players wave and acknowledge one another from a distance.

“Our willingness to put in all the extra time and effort is simply to allow the student-athletes to have some sort of a season,” Alter AD and girls basketball coach Christina Hart said. “We will all have the opportunity to coach another year, but these seniors will not have a chance to play at the high school level again. Everyone has endured so much during 2020, and young adults are not exempt. They basically lost all of their spring experiences, and are now facing the unknown each day. For young people who need to have a sense of normalcy, 2020 has been anything but normal for them. It’s out of concern for their mental and emotional well-being that drives us each and every day.”

In an informal survey to area ADs, a handful said they don’t foresee cancelling the winter sports season with the current COVID-19 numbers. That could change, of course, if COVID-19 numbers rise and state officials step in. A number of schools said a two-week stoppage of sports after Christmas, like some schools did for Thanksgiving, is not likely. The threat of bad weather and the potential for cancellations in January and February makes practices and games in those months even more valuable and necessary.

“We have been talking with our kids to get their perspective, and our student-athletes are adamant that they want to be in-person learning, and also have the opportunity to play sports,” Northmont AD Micah Harding said. “While we are doing everything in our power to mitigate the spread of Covid, we are very concerned about what lockdowns and shutdowns are doing to our students mentally and emotionally. Our goal is to keep them involved in athletics in a safe environment, where our coaches can continue to work with them and provide them opportunities in athletics.”

The Dayton City League plans to play a 16-game boys season and 13-game girls season. The teams will largely play within the league and immediate area, as well as a few Cincinnati area schools. Montgomery County is one of eight Ohio counties listed as purple for severe exposure and spread. Despite that Jones said she’s heard of no schools cancelling games with DCL programs to avoid traveling to Montgomery County.

The majority of conference are playing non-conference games, while the Miami Valley League continues to play a conference-only schedule for basketball and bowling.

As for spectators, schools are following the Ohio High School Athletic Association’s recommendations along with those of Gov. Mike DeWine. Parents and guardians – ranging from one to four depending on the district – are allowed by some schools. Others are allowing same-household family to mee the 15-percent capacity guidelines for basketball. Visiting spectators are not allowed at some gyms. Bowling, swimming and wrestling venues are facing even tighter restrictions.

Another headache for ADs is scheduling. For some schools that has changed on a weekly and almost daily basis.

“You think you have it and something happens. Sometimes it’s not your district,” Jones said. “… Right before we decided to pause there was a lot of manpower putting those schedules together and making adjustments. It’s like a do-over now.”

“The extra time to organize the information regarding ticketing and set up of games is incredible,” Bellbrook AD Charlie O’Dell said. “I plan on doing this job for another 20 years but I am afraid it will burn out a lot of good athletic directors. Overall people are very patient and understand that we are just doing the best we can.” “We’re not trying to have games just to have games,” Jones said. “We’re trying to do it as safe as possible and doing what’s best for everyone including our coaches and support staff.

“I think any chance you can bring back normalcy, as safe as possible, is always a good thing. There are a lot of things that come with sports – working as a team, perseverance, working through adversity. There’s a lot of life lessons that come with it as well. We want to still approach the season as safe as possible. I’ll tell you this, even as adults we’ve found some of our coaches struggling with this as well. I think it’s helpful for all parties involved (to have a season).”

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