Area schools optimistic contact sports will get approval from Gov. DeWine on Tuesday

Lakota West Athletic Director Scott Kaufman is cautiously optimistic about Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement.

“If there is anything we’ve learned in the last six months,” Kaufman said, “it’s don’t expect anything.”

Centerville AD Rob Dement chose the words “really optimistic and excited” to describe his feelings heading into Tuesday. Meanwhile, Fairmont AD Chris Weaver, who enjoyed seeing his boys and girls golf teams and girls tennis teams return to competition Monday, hopes the athletes in the full-contact sports don’t see another curveball in a year that has seen the winter sports championships and entire spring sports season cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Shawnee AD Steve Tincher knows something has to change one way or the other when DeWine makes a final decision on the status of high school full-contact sports. DeWine said Thursday he would have news Tuesday.

Will football, soccer and field hockey athletes, who started practice Aug. 1, be allowed to continue with their seasons and start competing against other schools? The decision has to come this week. Soccer and field hockey teams can start competing Friday. The first Friday night of football season is Aug. 28.

“There’s no guarantee what he’s going to say tomorrow,” Tincher said Monday. “I think back to the Big Ten situation. They announced a new schedule, and then 10 days later, they cancelled the season.”

Ready to go

Tincher said it would be disheartening to see the rug pulled out from underneath athletes who have been practicing for three weeks. That is not expected to happen. DeWine gave every indication Thursday he will allow the athletes to compete and that the delay in making it official was only about working with the Ohio High School Athletic Association to iron out details about health-and-safety protocols.

“We want the young people to have their season,” DeWine said. “We want to do it as safety as possible. This will be a little disruptive for some people, but we want to make sure parents, people who mean a lot to that particular child, have the opportunity to see them.”

In a memo sent to schools Thursday night, OHSAA Interim Executive Director Bob Goldring said they were “working tirelessly” with the governor “and believe our plans to move forward with the start of our seasons are in concert.”

Meanwhile, athletes continue to practice amid the uncertainty.

“They’re ready to go,” Springboro AD Austin Rhoads said. “Our kids have been working hard since May 28 when we got the go-ahead (to return to training). They’ve kind of got blinders on. They’re trying to control what they can control. We can’t control everything that happens, but we’ve got to be prepared.”

While everyone expects full-contact sports to get the go-ahead, there have been few rumors about what restrictions might come with that, Weaver said. One thing that has to change, everyone agrees is the requirement for COVID-19 testing.

“Our board of directors at the OHSAA,” Weaver said, “when they submitted proposals to the governor’s office as it relates to contact sports, they did say in that document, testing would not be practical for high schools.”

It’s too expensive to test athletes, Weaver said, and there also isn’t enough testing available across the state, especially for people without symptoms.

Different Friday nights

While the testing requirement isn’t likely to remain, there will be restrictions on attendance. Schools have prepared for that. No one knows, however, what the limit will be.

Will schools be allowed to fill the stands to 20 percent capacity? Some schools have planned around that percentage only because it was the number Ohio State used in plans for its football season before the Big Ten decided to cancel the fall season with hopes of playing in the spring.

“We don’t have any inside information,” Dement said. “That’s just a number we’ve worked off of. If we get more than that, great.”

“Our first priority is going to be parents and families,” Kaufman said. “We will see what that does to get us to our limit. It’s safe to say, student sections aren’t going to happen this year. That’s my own internal belief. I just want the kids to play. The first priority is getting mom and dad in there. Whether or not little sister or little brother and grandma and grandpa make it, I’m not convinced I can say that.”

To get into games in the Greater Western Ohio Conference, fans will use their phones to scan a QR code. That will allow the school to keep track of who’s at the game and conduct contact tracing if needed in case someone at the game tests positive for COVID-19. Athletes have gotten used to the scans, as well as daily temperature checks, since training began in the summer.

At Lakota West, the cheerleaders and band will attend games, though the band won’t travel to away games, and Kaufman said the band is so large, parents of band members may not be able to attend every home game.

On the bright side, Lakota West will stream every game online through a partnership with

How else will Friday nights look different? Kaufman expects there will be no postgame handshake lines. That’s the plan in the Great Western Ohio Conference, which also plans to limit the use of locker rooms.

“It’s going to be kind of like being back in your youth football says,” Weaver said. “It’s going to look different, but it has to because it is different. I think a lot of our teams understand that.”

The GWOC will also ask players and coaches to not stand shoulder to shoulder during the national anthem and for the players to wear masks when they’re not in the game.

Kaufman said Lakota West will do everything it can to minimize how long athletes are in close contact. They have expanded the bench area, so it stretches from one 10-yard line to the other. Inside that area, it has painted 80 dots, each spaced at least 6 feet apart. Players not in the game will have to stand on their dot. Everyone will have their own personal water bottle, too.

Kaufman said halftime will be shortened from 20 minutes to 10 minutes plus a three-minute warmup period.

Many schools and conferences are making adjustments like that, not knowing exactly what DeWine, the Ohio Department of Health and the OHSAA will announce. The hope is the protocols align with what they’re already doing or are planning to do.

“There are tremendous amount of logistics to prepare for a football season,” Weaver said, “starting usually at the end of last football season. To be at this point two weeks away and still have so many questions that haven’t been answered does make things a little bit stressful.”

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