The state’s governing body of high school athletics must do a better job of enforcing safety protocols for its remaining championship football games during the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization’s director said Monday.
The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association will work more closely with the University of Central Oklahoma and the administrations of competing schools to assure more compliance in the next set of games, OSSAA Executive Director David Jackson said in a Zoom news conference.
The Jenks school district has apologized for photos on social media showing players, students and fans in a crowded grandstand, most of whom were not wearing masks as they celebrated the Trojans’ 41-14 win over Edmond Santa Fe in the Class 6A Division I final Saturday in UCO’s Wantland Stadium in Edmond.
“We know how horrible it looks, but it’s not what we wanted or planned for,” Jackson said. “A lot went into preparing for distancing and wearing masks and doing everything we could to keep (everyone) safe.”
Jackson praised UCO for printing safety guidelines before the first set of games and for marking off open and closed seating areas to assure social distancing.
But more will have to be done when the next set of championship games unfolds Friday and Saturday in the same venue, Jackson acknowledged. And responsibility will fall on many shoulders.
“We all have to take ownership. We’re going to be talking with our school administrators. UCO is going to be more active and our staff is going to be more active,” he said.
Jackson said OSSAA and UCO officials will be more active in directing people to appropriate seating areas. That may include sending more spectators to the grassy seating area around the south end zone, Jackson said.
And, some people who insist on not wearing masks may have to be escorted from the stadium and have their money refunded, he said.
“That’s not something we want to do, but we will if we have to,” Jackson said. “We don’t want such a special time to be tainted by COVID-related issues and the fact that we’re ignoring safety concerns. I know that’s what UCO wants and it’s what we want and we’re working on repairing anything that went wrong.”
Lincoln Christian and Holland Hall play for the 3A state title at 7 p.m. Friday at UCO. Wagoner faces Clinton for the 4A crown at 1 p.m. Saturday and Midwest City-Carl Albert plays Oklahoma City-Bishop McGuinness at 7 p.m. Saturday for the 5A title.
The Class 2A and Class A semifinals are this weekend and the finals in those divisions will be played at UCO on Dec. 19 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.
Bixby defeated Choctaw 17-14 in the 6A Division II final last Saturday and Jenks captured its 17th gold ball overall but its first in five years. That’s a long time in Trojans terms, and every Jenks player, coach and fan was overjoyed.
Jackson indicated the “horrible” celebration photo may have looked worse than it really was.
“Probably in all fairness, (it) needs to be explained by the fact that it was taken after the game was over, where one student had the trophy and was showing it to the student section (and) students and parents couldn’t come out on the field and several congregated. That made the picture look really bad,” he said.
Fans didn’t act the same way during the game, he said.
“The times we got to stop and observe, we thought people complied about as well as possible,” he said.
But spectators did congregate and Jackson was quizzed whether too many were permitted to enter a stadium with a seating capacity of about 10,000.
The OSSAA allowed 2,500 tickets for each school and did not sell its planned maximum of 6,000 for either game, although UCO statisticians listed unofficial estimates of 6,500 for the Jenks game and 5,400 for the Bixby game.
“I don’t think that’s gonna be the problem, as much as making sure people go to the closed and open spaces so they can space adequately,” he said.