COLUMBUS -- The Ohio High School Athletic Association on Wednesday issued "COVID-19 Return to Play Recommendations" for member schools planning to participate in fall sports.
The documents contain general recommendations for all sports and then also provides specific guidelines for individual sports, including football, soccer, volleyball, cross country, field hockey, tennis and golf as seasons begin Aug. 1.
There have been no high school sports contests in Ohio since the OHSAA cut short its winter sports tournaments in March as the pandemic accelerated.
The OHSAA said its documents should be considered as recommendations and should not supersede guidelines, mandates, requirements and/or orders put into place by the Ohio Governor’s Office and/or the Ohio Department of Health; and/or guidelines, mandates, requirements and/or orders put into place by federal, local or county organizations or health departments and/or local school districts.
"Please review the latest Ohio Department of Health Director’s Order to ensure all MANDATES are followed. In addition, school and athletic administrators do not have the authority to implement standards for interscholastic athletics events which are different than those plans which are adopted by the school’s Board of Education or governing board," the OHSAA said.
"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," the organization said.
The organization urged schools "to especially pay attention to the early pages of the document closely since they indicate that many of the recommendations can ONLY be utilized if (current) mandates from the Ohio Department of Health Director’s Order are modified."
The recommendation are for varsity, non-varsity and junior high athletic seasons and "participation opportunities have been made with the health, safety and well-being of all student-athletes in mind."
The OHSAA acknowledged the risk of coronavirus transmission will still be present as sports begin in August and will continue to be until a widely available vaccine or therapeutic care is developed, possibly for the entire 2020-2021 school/sports year.
"While the science about COVID-19 is evolving, it will be important to remain vigilant and nimble to respond to new developments. Students and their families, along with school personnel, must recognize these risks and implement best practices to reasonably mitigate these risks," the OHSAA said.
The organization noted participation in sports is voluntary and each individual and his/her family must evaluate risks vs. benefits.
The OHSAA has also drafted an acknowledgement form athletes should sign, indicating they understand the risks and will do their part to protect their school and community.
In all sports, the OHSAA said schools should attempt to significantly mitigate exposures by:
-- Maintaining physical distancing while not on the field or court of play;
-- Requiring face coverings while not on the field or court of play;
-- Reducing or greatly eliminating unnecessary travel;
-- Reducing or eliminating sharing of common equipment, and
-- Reducing or eliminating contact frequency with student-athletes from schools and non-interscholastic programs outside of each school's league/conference or normal competition sphere.
"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," the OHSAA said.
"With that being said, in order for interscholastic athletics to occur, we all need to follow the protocols that have been put in place," the organization said.
The existing ODH guidance permits non-contact sport practices and competitive play, and contact sport practices and intra-team scrimmages but NOT inter-team (i.e., other schools/teams) scrimmages or competitive play at this time.
"As of Wednesday, the Ohio Department of Health was in the process of developing guidance for contact sport inter-team competitive play, and OHSAA will share it with member schools when complete," the organization said.