Way back on March 20, I filled this column space with a piece urging the Ohio High School Athletic Association to end the waiting game for winter sports athletes following the indefinite postponement of the state and regional basketball tournaments and the wrestling state tournaments.
Seemingly leaving the door tantalizingly open for a possible resumption of the winter season felt cruel at the time, and the proverbial bandage needed ripped off in a climate that just wasn’t conducive to have those events held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Believe me, I wanted as much as anyone to have our sports section’s pages filled with the exploits of the Napoleon girls, Evergreen and Ottawa-Glandorf boys and all the area’s standout wrestlers with eyes on the record books.
But it wasn’t right then to have those events and with four months’ worth of hindsight, it was still the right decision.
Fast forward to nearly the beginning of August and we find ourselves in a somewhat similar situation.
When you read this on July 30, it will be less than 24 hours away from the planned beginning of fall sports, the traditional first day of August that rings in a new school year along the sights of pom-poms and water coolers and the crunching of pads and helmets for practices.
But even with the go-ahead for practice to begin, we’re as uncertain of the future as we were when this pandemic first reared its ugly head in March.
Never mind that we had over 120 days to figure this out. Never mind that Ohio went from a model of flattening the curve and being proactive in the coronavirus outbreak to now becoming one of too many states facing second surges of the COVID-19 virus that has infected so many.
Epidemiology aside, these kids deserve answers.
Those answers may be the magic words of ‘go get ‘em’ as we move full bore towards fall sports.
They may be the cautious ‘wait a little longer’ with a delay of the start of seasons two weeks or four weeks or longer.
They may even be the unfortunate echo of the spring, with a cancellation or postponement.
But the answers are still needed.
Nobody is expecting the perfect solution that will leave all parties satisfied and every athlete, coach, trainer and fan safe from the ravages that COVID-19 can wreak.
As they proved through an unprecedented spring semester, the kids will adapt to anything given to them. I’m sure if you asked players if they would sacrifice part of their season just to take the field or court even a half-season’s worth of time, they’d jump at it.
I’m sure if you told those same players there’s some extra hoops they need to jump through on the cleanliness side, they’d immediately start some flexibility drills just to be ready to make all the leaps they’d be asked to make.
I also understand an OHSAA perspective of wanting to give themselves as much time as possible to gauge the current situation and make a plan accordingly.
But at some point we’re cutting it too close.
As some of my high school teachers and college professors could probably attest from submitted assignments, cutting it too close can be a dangerous game to play.
We’re asking kids to take the fields, courts and courses with no real certainty of what their seasons will look like, holding on to a sense of optimism that the best-case scenario will appear but with an eye on the other shoe about to fall.
The OHSAA sent out a survey to administrators of member schools to gauge opinion on any potential plans going forward.
The majority of those questioned favored a status quo move for contact and low/non-contact sports as currently planned, though a fair amount also expressed a desire to delay the start of fall sports as appropriate.
The survey also revealed that most administrators also wished to keep up the current plan for low/non-contact sports like volleyball, golf and tennis as scheduled and if there were a delay, either a two-week push that would move the start of fall sports to mid-August or a month-long push to start potentially Aug. 31.
It’s not a uniform decision, as remote learning plans in places like Cleveland could scuttle fall sports for the first nine weeks and recommendations have come from health departments in Portage (Kent, Ravenna) and Summit (Akron) Counties to hold off on sports until Oct. 1.
The OHSAA has left much of the decision in the hands of whatever Gov. Mike DeWine announces through his role while the state has been coy in expressing much on their end.
Tuesday will mark a dialogue between the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted in a potential chance for some answers. The OHSFCA released a well-publicized proposal for a framework of what a COVID-mindful format could be, and I’ll be honest, I just appreciated someone submitting an idea.
What we need now is leadership.
The decisions are hard, they always are, but they’re necessary.
The waiting game isn’t necessary anymore.