Hours after Gov. Mike DeWine on Wednesday mandated masks in all 88 counties, the Ohio High School Athletic Association sent a 22-page "Return to Play Recommendations" memo
to member schools with additional sport-specific suggestions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic for the fall calendar. Practices for the Ohio fall sports season start Aug. 1.
"The OHSAA fully intends to support its member schools and the student-athletes who desire to compete in interscholastic athletics and will continue to assess all areas as more information becomes available," OHSAA interim executive director Bob Goldring said.
The guidelines — created via input from a myriad of state agencies and the National Federation of State High School Associations — won't supplant orders, mandates or requirements imposed by DeWine or the Ohio Department of Health.
The memo, which comes a day after the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association released a 38-page safety protocol proposal
to its membership, includes plans for pre-participation screening, positive tests and travel considerations. It also features details on game-day operations including officials, event staff, spectators, bands, cheerleaders and concessions.
General guidelines for all sports include maintaining social distancing when not on the field or court, using face coverings while not competing, and dialing back or cutting unnecessary travel. It also recommends reducing or eliminating sharing of common equipment, and limiting contact frequency with student-athletes from schools and non-interscholastic programs outside of each school's league, conference or normal competition sphere.
Specific recommendations for football include extending the team box on both sides of the field to the 10-yard lines and having offensive players take the ball back to the huddle between snaps while officials would mark the line of scrimmage with a bean bag.
Staggered start times in cross country and nullifying switching benches between sets in volleyball were suggested.
Postgame handshakes in all sports will be eliminated.
"The OHSAA understands that the physical and mental benefits of participation in education-based interscholastic athletics are numerous and are heightened even more during this pandemic," Goldring said. "There is no doubt that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has already resulted in thousands of our students missing out on these life-shaping educational experiences over the past several months, and we certainly hope we can return to some type of normalcy as it relates to interscholastic athletics soon."
Three of the OHSAA's fall sports have been acknowledged as low contact, including boys and girls golf, girls tennis and volleyball. Those sports can have competitions between schools.
Competitions between schools in football, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls cross country, and field hockey have not yet been approved.
"We just don't know yet," DeWine said. "Our ability to play sports and go back to school depends on what we do in the next few weeks."