It seems high schools will have to wait just a little longer to initiate their own reopening process for athletics.
Earlier this week, David Jackson — the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association executive director ¬— sent a letter to athletic directors around the state about keeping facilities closed until at least June 1.
This isn’t necessarily a set date, but the OSSAA hopes that by then it will have a firm understanding of the pros and cons of continuing athletic activities and whether it will be safe to do so with the COVID-19 coronavirus still looming.
Not only does the OSSAA want to follow guidelines set by state and local governments and health care officials, but it also desires to somewhat mimic decisions made by national sports leagues, assuming they will resume only when safety can be adequately ensured to athletes, team officials and possibly fans (if the data suggest they can be allowed in venues).
A June 1 return would put an end to what would be a nearly three-month ban of high school athletics. Events began getting canceled or postponed on March 12, and everything was officially suspended the week of spring break.
On March 26, the OSSAA voted unanimously to cancel the Class 2A-6A state basketball tournaments and all spring sports after the Oklahoma State Department of Education voted to move education practices out of classrooms to a virtual medium.
Below is Jackson’s letter to all member schools, which includes eight of the nine establishments in Rogers County (Claremore, Verdigris, Sequoyah, Chelsea, Inola, Foyil, Oologah and Catoosa). Claremore Christian is not a member of the OSSAA.
“As the official close of the school year draws near, we are receiving an increased number of calls regarding summer activities, what will be allowed and not allowed for the students, coaches and directors.
“While we felt that it was important to establish statewide guidance for activities during the school year regarding the COVID-19 situation, we feel that it is equally important to provide some guidance for the start of our summer activities.
“Even though our state has started the “reopening” process, we feel it is important for our member school facilities to remain closed until at least June 1. This will give us enough time to review data from our state and local government entities, our health-care professionals and the other national sports and activities governing bodies. Based on the information we have at that time, we could adjust the June 1 date and/or add or relax restrictions to the summer activities regulations. Our focus has become doing all we can do to help preserve the opening of schools and activities in the fall.”
Sequoyah athletic director Steve Cooper recently spoke on the topic, stating that though he is eager for sports to pick back up, schools must be diligent in keeping students and athletes safe.
“We’re hoping for the best,” Cooper said. “My hope is that we get back to school and get practicing the first of July. We’ve already talked about not doing anything in June, but the dead week is the first week of July, so maybe we can come back after that and get going.
“We can’t do anything until the CDC tells the schools what to do. That’s the No. 1 priority is to make sure everybody is safe. We don’t want to get back too soon and have (COVID-19 cases) start up again.”
Verdigris co-athletic director Mike Buntin, who handles activities, scheduling and officials for the school and serves as the girls basketball coach, also weighed in on the preliminary return date.
Buntin said all coaches are looking forward to getting back into activities, and they’re going to take all the precautions necessary to maintain a safe environment in the event sports do make a comeback this summer.
“I think it’s possibly doable,” Buntin said of returning by June 1. “My youngest son plays little league baseball, and they’re starting this week with restrictions on contact and distance, so I think June 1 will be a good time to start to see how the reopening of the state is going. It’s probably a good date for the OSSAA to have chosen.”
Even if the June 1 date stands, though, Verdigris won’t follow the OSSAA blindly. Independent decisions will be made if certain criteria haven’t been met.
“We’ll do what we as a local school district feel like is best for our community,” Buntin said. “We may not go straight into the full summer. A lot of people are hoping to have team camps every week, but as far as girls basketball, we’ll take it much slower. We’ll try to get them in the gym and do small-group work and go to individual goals, and we’ll definitely sanitize all the balls and do everything we can to slowly get them back in.
“I’m ready to get in the gym and see my kids. We’ve been sending out workouts, and there’s some online camps we’re doing in an app called HomeCourt, so we’ve been doing competitions with that.”