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Members of the La Grande High School girls soccer team scrimmage during a summer practice Thursday, Aug. 20. LHS plans to start its “Season 1” schedule Sept. 7, and will have three five-week blocks, one for each season.

LA GRANDE — There could be an opportunity for some prep sports this fall, after all.

The latest guidance on schools from the Oregon Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority, which came out Aug. 11, has a provision that allows for training, conditioning and contests for some outdoor activities even if districts are in distance learning mode, which a majority of the state likely will be when the 2020-21 school year begins.

The Oregon School Activities Association followed Monday, Aug. 17, with further guidance on what would be OK for schools.

Schools, if they elect to, will be able to allow teams in non-contact and medium-contact outdoor sports to train, engage in conditioning, and even have competition, while full-contact outdoor sports and all indoor sports will be limited to practice and conditioning for schools that are under distance-learning restrictions. Students at schools that are in a hybrid mode or that have all their students on-site will be allowed to fully engaged in indoor sports such as volleyball.

Football, basketball and wrestling, which are considered full-contact sports by OHA, still are not allowed by the health agency to compete. Baseball, softball, soccer and volleyball are deemed medium-contact, and tennis, swimming, golf, cross-country and track and field are non-contact sports, though swimming is limited to training and conditioning if a school is conducting distance learning.

There cannot be any full contact in training, according to the guidance, and further instruction from OSAA has said protective equipment cannot be used for sports such as football. The state’s sports governing body has approved 7-on-7 flag football. A provision also has been made to allow volleyball competition outdoors on a grass or sand surface.

In early August, the OSAA came out with an updated schedule that moved all sports to the start of the 2021 calendar year, but left open an option for districts, if requirements were met, to allow students of any sport to practice, condition and possibly compete.

This would mean while all of the state’s sanctioned sports could practice during the new “Season 1” from Aug. 31 to Dec. 27, competition could only take place in baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, golf, cross-country and track and field.

La Grande Athletic Director Darren Goodman is in agreement with the move by the state to allow activities even if students are in a full distance-learning format.

“I think they realized the importance for activities and socialization. Life isn’t going as normal right now, but during the practices and things we can make it as normal as possible under the guidelines and give a little normalcy to people’s lives,” he said Friday. “Obviously were going to be following all the safety guidelines to keep people as safe as possible.”

Schools in Union and Wallowa counties are taking a wide range of approaches to the new setup.

Powder Valley Athletic Director Brad Dunten said Friday the Old Oregon League schools in the two counties have developed a plan that could put together a schedule for competitions for the area’s six 1A schools and two 2A schools, one that would include volleyball and a 5-on-5 passing league for football at both the middle and high school levels.

“We’re still working on the rules, so not sure exactly what it’s going to look like,” Dunten said of the football league.

Powder Valley plans to start Aug. 31, and Dunten said the thinking behind the schedule came from wanting to get athletes a season.

“I think a lot of the schools look at ‘Season 1’ as an opportunity for the kids not knowing if Seasons 2, 3 and 4 will exist,” he said.

He added more guidance set to come from the OSAA Monday will give clarity on if the proposal could be come a reality, and there is a meeting Wednesday to decide if the 2A schools are on board.

Union, which is planning to have its students on-site when it opens school Aug. 31, wants to get a handle on school before it moves forward with its plan for “Season 1.”

“First part of September we’ll make a plan,” Union Athletic Director Chris Dunlap said Tuesday. “We gotta get our feet wet with school. Once we get to managing that we’ll get our feet wet with the extracurricular activities.”

The benefit of the updated guidance, Dunlap said, is he can begin to work out what the season could indeed look like.

“I can start to plan for it, and start to formulate a plan for each individual sport and accommodate needs for use,” he said.

Dunlap did confirm that Union is considering a look into joining the region’s 1A schools for a schedule but it will wait until its first week of school is complete before it decides how to proceed.

Elgin is looking to use the first month specifically for training, then break up the latter stages of “Season 1.”

“I think what we’re going to do is do fall sports from Oct. 1 to mid-November, and then transition and see where winter sports are at that point,” said Elgin Athletic Director Jeff Rysdam on Tuesday, citing some uncertainty on how the school plans to integrate basketball.

He added cross-county and track coach Emily Sorensen has a plan to put together a running club for her athletes.

Elgin plans to start practice Sept. 14.

“I’m excited we got some sports going,” Rysdam said. “Hearing them (students) talk, I’m excited.”

Joseph AD Jason Crenshaw also laid out his school’s current plans to start the season.

“Right now we’re putting together a schedule, it sounds like Union County and Wallowa County schools,” Crenshaw said. “That schedule will get a little bit more firm (next week). Within the district, talking with Lance Homan, the superintendent at Joseph there still are things we need to hammer out with busses, liability and waivers we need kids to sign.

“I’m going to push for it to be as normal as possible. I’m still kind of in limbo for how firm it’s going to be.

Crenshaw added the additional guidance Monday will be important.

“As athletic directors regionally we are tying to do things for our kids to do something,” he said. “That guidance is what we’re looking for.”

La Grande, which plans to start up its “Season 1” Sept. 7, is taking a similar approach to Elgin in that it will break it into multiple seasons. Goodman said starting first with spring sports, the season will be separated into three five-week segments.

The school is moving that way “so our kids don’t get pulled in different directions,” he said. “Then a kid doesn’t have to choose between (sports).”

He added that whether there are competitions will depend on circumstances with the virus.

“We’re going to play it by ear. We’re going to always keep safety in mind,” Goodman said. “If it’s safe to do some things, we’ll get things going. If not, we’ll practice and get the kids active.”

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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