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Winter sports coaches thinking ahead toward next OHSAA season during COVID-19 pandemic

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Aug 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-31 19:49:24-04

CINCINNATI — Lakota West girls basketball coach Andy Fishman prefers to remain optimistic about this upcoming winter sports season during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I've never operated with the kind of attitude of what's going to happen is bad," Fishman said.

Although Ohio High School Athletic Association girls basketball practice doesn't begin officially until Oct. 23, how the pandemic will impact winter sports -- all of which are indoors -- remains in question.

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Cincinnati-area coaches have taken steps for health and safety protocols for players during high school workouts this summer.

This week, the Ohio governor's office approved school-versus-school competition for fall contact sports, including football, soccer and field hockey.

But the wait was significant this summer. Soccer and field hockey will start their respective seasons Friday. Football starts next week.

"These decisions are not made in a vacuum," Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said. "It's not just a case of saying. 'OK, look, we are going back to school.' That's a risk -- we know that. Playing sports, we know that's a risk. Both of those certainly have the potential to increase the spread in the communities."

Basketball, hockey, bowling and swimming and diving start official practice at the end of October. Wrestling officially starts practice Nov. 13.

"My thoughts on winter sports, especially contact sports like basketball and wrestling is that it all may depend on football and soccer," Elder wrestling coach Jason Roush said.

"If fall contact sports make it without huge issues, I think winter sports - even wrestling - can put things in place to do it safely. There is always a risk, but I think we can minimize it the best we can and give our kids the opportunity to chase their dreams and to be a part of extracurricular activities."

It may be early to speculate but coaches are being prepared.

"We are planning going forward as if we are on schedule," Elder bowling coach Dave Sievers said.

The Lakota West girls basketball program was among the first high school teams in the state to embrace individual skills and physical workout training May 26 at the start of Ohio's reopening plan.

"I've always operated as a coach and a teacher in our program that I think what we're doing makes sense," Fishman said. "We're checking everything out. We're doing things safely. I think that everyone is in a better position now than they were previous."

Moeller basketball coach Carl Kremer, who is also the school's principal, said the Crusaders were able to benefit individually, especially in the weight room in June and July.

"We really had a great summer in terms of being able to slow things down and work on skill and fundamentals of shooting the ball," Kremer said. "So we worked with all of our guys. We had a lot of kids in the gym on a consistent basis."

Kremer wonders what the future holds this school year -- as an educator and a coach.

"I think it's very, very clear that our leadership in Ohio wants there to be high school sports," Kremer said. "I think they're trying really, really hard. You're just trying to balance all the information and you don't know the information is going to be two weeks from now."

OHSAA senior director of communications Tim Stried said the recent focus has been on the three fall contact sports (football, soccer and field hockey) trying to get approval for competition from the Ohio governor's office.

But Stried understands the situation with COVID-19 won't simply go away anytime soon. That includes during the winter sports season.

"We're going to go through this again in the fall with our winter sports," Stried said. "We're going to go through it again in the spring with lacrosse, which is our only contact spring sport. So it's going to be a school year similar to what we've had this summer. We've got a lot of challenges to overcome. We're just more focused and dedicated than ever, though, to doing everything we can to support our schools."

Moeller, which has a significant basketball schedule with the likes of the No. 1-ranked team in Indiana (Lawrence North), Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary and the nationally renowned Beach Ball Classic, is hoping it gets a chance to compete next March after the remainder of its postseason tournament, including the regional final, was canceled earlier this year due to the pandemic.

"We realize everything is going to be different, but am I optimistic that in some way are we going to have a season?" Kremer said. "I really am. I think we're going to find a way. I'm hopeful there will be some advances from a medicine point of view by January."