COLUMBUS, Ohio — Talawanda football coach Larry Cox received updates on his phone every few minutes Tuesday afternoon during Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's press conference regarding high school sports.
As he prepared for practice, he couldn't wait to inform his team.
"I'm happy we get to play - that's the best part," Cox said late Tuesday afternoon. "And I think it's what is best for kids."
DeWine gave the green light for contact sports including high school football, soccer and field hockey seasons to start on time this month during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"All systems go," La Salle coach Pat McLaughlin told his players in the Lancers' weight room. "We're playing ball this year."
The state department of health order is effective Friday, according to Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
“I hope that the desire to have a season will inspire our young people, our athletes, our student-athletes, 24/7 to be as careful as they can,” DeWine said. “I hope also that our coaches will use this an opportunity to focus on helping these young people understand what really is at stake. If they are going to be able to play, that they are going to have to do everything they can to keep COVID out of their team.”
With Tuesday's announcement, another chapter started within the Ohio high school sports landscape. Friday night football will look much different across the state as DeWine admitted Tuesday afternoon.
Spectators will be limited to players' parents, family members or those closest to the student-athlete.
The OHSAA requirements, based on guidance from the governor’s office, is for schools to limit the number of players dressing for contests. The limits are 60 in football, 22 in soccer and field hockey, and 15 in volleyball.
In addition, the OHSAA, based on guidance from the governor’s office, is limiting marching and/or pep bands to performing only at home contests.
"We've just got to be flexible because we are dealing with so many things that are unknown," DeWine said.
DeWine announced Tuesday all sports are allowed to proceed this fall without COVID-19 testing in place.
The soccer and field hockey seasons start Friday while football begins the week of Aug. 24.
Low/non-contact sports such as girls volleyball, cross country, golf and girls tennis have already been cleared to play this fall season.
“The OHSAA is moving forward because we want kids to have an opportunity to participate, and the governor’s office is providing that opportunity and a chance,” said OHSAA interim executive director Bob Goldring.
“So for that we are most appreciative. It’s important to remember that our student-athletes have been practicing and training with others for weeks and even months, and it has gone well. So, we believe they deserve the chance to move forward, and that the high school space is also different than the collegiate space.”
Additional work begins for Cincinnati-area teams, schools and athletic directors. The OHSAA said there will be separate mandates and recommended best practices for schools to follow for competitions and the OHSAA could issue consequences for violations of requirements.
The mandates and recommended best practices are related to many of the same mandates and protocols already in place for many other sectors as they relate to symptom assessments: facial coverings, social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, and confirmed COVID-19 cases/exposure to the virus. The final versions of those two documents will be sent to schools on Wednesday.
"So, if we want our students to have the privilege of competing in interscholastic athletics, it’s going to be up to all of us to make sure all mandates and protocols are being followed," Goldring said. "We all need to be diligent and be disciplined."
The OHSAA is also prepared to remove the impediments in its bylaws and regulations that would otherwise preclude schools from playing fall sports in the spring.
In other words, schools that have opted out of fall sports participation due to the pandemic – meaning the school has not participated in fall sports during the currently defined fall season – will have an opportunity to play their sports in the spring.
However, Goldring said a task force will be needed to create certain parameters to see what those spring sports opportunities look like.
"As the pandemic has proved, this is an evolving situation, so more details will be shared with the membership when appropriate," Goldring said.
OHSAA senior director of communications Tim Stried emphasized DeWine's decision Tuesday represents a step forward for the fall sports season.
"We're going to have the tournaments this fall," Stried said. "What the participation opportunities look like in the spring we need to work a lot of that out."
Earlier this month, the OHSAA announced plans to shorten the football season following a recommendation from the governor's office concerning thoughts that COVID-19 may spike in early winter.
That plan includes a six-game regular season in which all teams are able to enter the playoffs starting Oct. 9. The state championship games will be played no later than Nov. 21.
Cincinnati-area teams mobilized last week to create a modified schedule with the first Friday night being Aug. 28.
"For the seniors I'm ecstatic for because I've got a couple of kids that they need some colleges to get a look at them and they haven't been able to do that," Roger Bacon coach Mike Blaut said. "So they need to go out and perform. Besides that just the fact of going out and playing with their buddies one more time."
The OHSAA has 815 member high schools and 760 seventh- to eighth-grade schools in the association for this upcoming 2020-21 school year.
The OHSAA represents over 350,000 students competing in 26 sanctioned sports – 13 for boys and 13 for girls.