Itemizer-Observer

POLK COUNTY — To quote Hank Williams Jr., “Are you ready for some football?”

As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to decline, Gov. Kate Brown updated guidance for getting athletes back on the gridiron. Beginning Feb. 10, outdoor contact sports will be permitted to resume with health and safety protocols in place based on county risk level.

Central School District officials were excited by the announcement, which came just days after the Oregon Schools Activity Association were developing contingency plans for seven-on-seven flag football.

“Obviously this has been a difficult year for athletics, but I’m very excited for our community, coaches, athletes, and particularly our seniors for this opportunity to compete,” said Ryan O’Malley, Central High School athletic director. “Countless hours have been put in by these kids and families leading up to their high school career, so to see them get something out of all that work is really meaningful. Another important aspect is the positive mental health benefits for these kids, the social interaction, the physical exertion are all vital to their development.”

Dallas Athletic Director Tim Larson echoed O’Malley’s enthusiasm about getting athletes back to competition.

“I am extremely excited about getting athletes back out competing this year,” Larson said. “My hope is that all sports will be given the same urgency to return.”

Dallas had a check list of things to do before the season started, including getting approved to move forward with the season, obtaining testing supplies and getting consent forms signed by parents.

“We just want to make sure everything is in place,” Larson said.

Falls City is following the same process.

“Falls City is in the process of opting in for outdoor sports. We will be following all the requirements set out by the OHA (Oregon Health Authority),” said Dennis Sickles, Falls City’s athletic director. “We have testing supplies and daily checks for all our participants.”

He stressed that getting back on the field isn’t just about playing.

“Sports is a big part of many students’ education process and losing out on sports has been very difficult for some students both physically and socially as well as their mental health,” Sickles said.

In Extreme Risk counties like Polk and Marion counties, where COVID-19 remains more widespread, the Oregon Health Authority said schools and other sports organizations can opt-in to resuming outdoor contact sports with additional protocols in place. In such counties, sports organizations must offer on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.

“The district has very good safety protocols in place,” said Jason Clark, Central’s director of safety and security. “We also have a student-athlete screening and check-in procedure that is supported with contact tracing of individuals involved. We will have all the pieces in place to take the next steps forward in preparing for the upcoming football season.”

In addition, the OHA said schools in extreme-risk counties must also have at least limited in-person instruction occurring, with the goal of achieving hybrid or full in-person instruction for students this school year.

The CSD has been in its phase one of LIPI learning the past couple weeks with a plan to incrementally increase that schedule in the upcoming months. See the district’s schedule online at https://bit.ly/3qEhvXF.

As of Feb. 19, the CSD is completing the following ODE and OSAA Requirements:

• ODE Outdoor Contact Sport Opt-In Requirements posted on the district’s website

• On-site rapid testing for COVID-19 for symptomatic individuals and close contacts

• Return to Sports Plan and Safety Protocols posted online and on campus

• Student-athletes or their parent/guardian must complete participating and testing waiver forms, both also found the district’s website.

Dallas has approximately 300 students district-wide in limited in-person instruction, and has a timeline for return of students to a hybrid format, starting with kindergarteners and first graders at the beginning of next month. Falls City will have all students on hybrid instruction by March 1.

The OSAA said on its website OHS’s new guidance will allow football teams, who began non-contact practices Feb. 8, to progress to contact practices the following week and start the season as scheduled March 1, provided they meet requirements for in-person instruction and follow health and safety protocols.

Itemizer-Observer News Editor Jolene Guzman contributed to this story.

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