2020-07-19 sp-emigcolumn OSSAA

Pawhuska head coach Matt Hennesy tells QB Bryce Drummond a play during football practice at Pawhuska high school last October. State administrators are planning as if the high school football season will start on time, but they know plans can change at any time. IAN MAULE/Tulsa World file

The end of the week brought news that Texas private and parochial schools were delaying the start of their high school football season five weeks. The University Interscholastic League, the governing body of Texas public high school athletics, communicated to the San Angelo Standard-Times it hasn’t made a decision.

That didn’t keep us from feeling the quake from the private schools’ decision, a reverberation from similar delay-the-season mandates that have been issued in states ranging from Tennessee and Mississippi to New York and New Jersey to New Mexico and Washington.

David Jackson, executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, felt the quiver, too.

“We absolutely are paying attention to what other states are doing around us,” he said. “It seems like each day the trend has been for people to either postpone fall activities or they’re delaying the start of them to see if their (COVID-19) numbers change any.”

What’s an OSSAA leader to do at an unhinged time like this? Same as Joe Castiglione and Mike Holder are doing at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State as the ground shifts in regions around them.

Keep calm, communicate with health and science professionals and school administrators, and buy as much time as possible to make as informed a decision as possible.

What is the OSSAA’s decision as of right now?

“We are still staying with going as scheduled with our activities in the fall,” Jackson said. “We know that may change with information that changes on a daily basis. But as of right now, we’re scheduled to go as planned. As a matter of fact, we just sent a memo to our schools saying so.

“Now, we also included in that memo that things could change.”

Meaning?

“The information that we get from our state health department and from other state health experts that we deal with, getting their advice, watching the COVID numbers, especially as they pertain to our age-level kids and our coaches,” Jackson said. “We’re watching that closely.”

The numbers are upsetting — 5,644 statewide new cases over the one-week period ending Friday, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. That’s 644 more cases than the health department registered over a nine-week period beginning March 6 as the coronavirus struck Oklahoma.

So again, the plan is to proceed toward an opening high school football practice date of Aug. 10. Just as Castiglione, Holder and the Big 12 Conference’s plan is to proceed toward more organized August college practices, and eventually toward an actual season-opening game.

That’s the plan.

Then there’s the concern. Most clearly, the concern over an Oklahoma COVID-19 curve that resembles a Turkey Mountain elevation reading.

“It would be easier if the trend was different because that would help ensure that we’re going to be in school,” Jackson said. “What the data of the increased numbers does, it lessens the likelihood that we’re going to be in school. Of course, that presents challenges if we’re not in school.

“So, yeah, that’s why we’re hoping the trend reverses and starts to go the other way. We want our kids in school. If they’re in school, that gives us a chance to have activities.”

Oklahoma school administrators are hanging in just like Jackson, holding out hope that at the very least there could be a combination of distance/in-person instruction when classes resume. Everyone is waiting and seeing, and learning what they can about the pandemic and potential safeguards against it in the meantime.

Jackson said he’s learning from those college models, inside the Big 12 and elsewhere. He’s borrowing from others’ patience and flexibility. He wants OSSAA membership to take the same cues, as grating as the pandemic has been and will continue to be on everybody.

“I think our people understand that as bad as we want our activities, as much we’ve missed them since March,” Jackson said, “our administrators and coaches still want to do everything we can to keep our kids safe.”

The hope is that can be accomplished on schedule, as it pertains to high school football in Oklahoma. That remains the plan.

Just be advised that plans, like everything else related to the pandemic, can change.


Guerin Emig

918-629-6229

guerin.emig@tulsaworld.com

Twitter: @GuerinEmig