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Mike Dyer: Covering high school sports is a marathon during COVID-19 pandemic

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Posted at 12:28 PM, Aug 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-11 12:39:37-04

CINCINNATI — One of the most significant occurrences in Ohio High School Athletic Association football history happened Friday afternoon.

I'm just glad someone else on my team noticed when the announcement was made.

The news release about an adjusted season appeared in the inboxes of statewide media members shortly before 5 p.m. Friday.

There was just one problem: I had my laptop computer and phone turned off.

"I was wondering why I haven't seen any Tweets from you!" texted one athletic director.

Another coach ribbed me pretty good in yet another text when I turned my phone on some two hours later.

"Did they hide it (the news) from you?" he asked jokingly.

RELATED: Join the Cincinnati area high school sports Facebook group

Turning off my phone is usually a sin during working hours -- especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. But thankfully I had an alibi.

Tasha Stewart, my supervisor and WCPO's senior manager of engagement, encouraged me to take a day off given the numerous developments and late breaking news within the high school sports world the prior week.

In fact, this past Friday was in place of my originally planned day off, July 31, after the OHSAA reiterated for the umpteenth time that official fall sports practice was moving forward.

And after all, I predicted, the Ohio governor's office or OHSAA wouldn't announce anything on a Friday.

Famous. Last. Words.

Don't get me wrong; I absolutely love covering high school sports.

Unfortunately, the discussion for the past five months has mostly centered on everything off the field or court.

Through this late winter/spring/summer unlike any other, I've learned that the OHSAA can send memos literally any day of the week. The OHSAA mentioned COVID-19 in a memo dating as far back as March 2.

So I should've known that without a decision on contact sports, anything is possible.

As I saw the texts arrive one by one early Friday night, I had a sinking feeling of knowing I had to catch up on what was just announced.

"Hey, I'm so sorry to bug you on your day off, but definitely thought you would want to know this," Stewart wrote in a text.

Of course, I did.

This was blockbuster news for high school football. Every Ohio high school football team would make the playoffs for the first time since the postseason started in 1972.

Plans for a six-game regular-season schedule and no minimum requirement for the number of games to qualify for the postseason were very significant developments.

Plus, the Ohio governor's office hadn't even signed off on football for school-versus-school competition yet.

This was yet another starting point for what appears to be another announcement this week.

Stewart reassured me everything was in good order with the story and not to worry about anything.

I started reading and searching for the social media reaction, and then I sent an email with some points of emphasis about the OHSAA plan.

I replied to the other text messages, including one from a longtime high school sports official who I had seen earlier at a West Side park with my family. That morning, I mentioned how I went for a lengthy run on my day off.

Hours later after closing the laptop, I looked back at another text that official sent me.

"You can never enjoy a day off with what you have going on, plus eight miles this morning for you -- you win," he wrote. "Have a good night."

That was definitely appreciated in the moment. I learned it's OK to step off the track for a brief respite.

Times like this may feel like a sprint, but it's always about the marathon. There are simply too many unknowns within the sports world each day.

And by 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Friday's news was in the past.

I found myself on a Zoom media conference call with Miami University athletic director David Sayler about the Mid-American Conference's announcement to postpone fall sports.

By late Saturday afternoon, my phone was turned off again.

I already was looking forward to the next jog Monday morning.

Mike Dyer has covered high school sports in Cincinnati since 2004.