UNION COUNTY — The Oregon School Activities Association on Monday, Dec. 7, announced it pushed back the start of high school sports to February 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Local school officials met the news with frustration and acceptance.
The OSAA’s decision moved the start of a six-week season for the traditional fall sports of football, volleyball and cross-country to Feb. 22, though football teams can start practice earlier. Spring sports will play during the following six weeks, and winter sports will play in the six weeks after that.
Jeffrey Rysdam, athletic director and head football coach in Elgin, said the OSAA’s move was predictable.
“I wasn’t really surprised by it,” Rysdam said. “I had a feeling they were gonna push things back just because of county cases, cases rising not only here but across the state.”
Rysdam struck a cautiously optimistic tone about the prospect of six-week sporting seasons returning to area high schools, saying “six games is still better than no games.”
Students in Elgin have been frustrated, he said, that play continually eludes them.
“We’re in person out here and I’ve been talking to them at the start of each day in class,” he said. “I talk to them and tell them what’s going on. They’re disappointed and, I guess, they’re basically tired of the goalposts getting moved. We get close and we have to move it again, and they just want to get back to normal.”
At the other end of the Grande Ronde Valley, Cove School District Superintendent Earl Pettit has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with state restrictions on school sports.
“With the latest shift in goalposts today, we are currently not allowed to have any indoor sports at all — this despite the fact that we are allowed to have PE classes, be in school, ride buses, etc.,” Pettit wrote in a Dec. 3 press release predating the OSAA announcement. “Expressing my frustration here, this goes clearly against the concept that activities are a part of school and an important part of the educational process.”
He also criticized Gov. Kate Brown for changes to Cove’s ability to provide sporting opportunities to students. Under Brown’s risk and protection framework, K-12 sports now are prohibited in counties with 60 or more cases of COVID-19 in the previous two weeks.
Pettit expressed a similar frustration with the OSAA’s decisions.
“We have said for years and continue to say that activities are an integral part of the educational experience for secondary students, for high school students, and (we’re) still waiting for that to happen this year,” the Cove superintendent said.
While action on the court, field and track has widely been put on hold in 2020, some sports did take place earlier in the fall. Imbler Athletic Director Mike Mills said he felt his school was fortunate to squeeze in an early volleyball season, adding it was good for the students.
Mills, though, expressed his own frustration with the delay in sports but said it was a necessary sacrifice in a difficult year.
“I’m a little disappointed, but I can understand why they (OSAA) are doing that,” he said.
The mood in Imbler, Mills said, was “sour,” but he emphasized the whole community must deal with the COVID-19 pandemic together.