OSSAA board rejects COVID-19 proposal

By Michael Kinney

 In a decision that caught many people off-guard, the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association board of directors rejected their own association’s reopening proposal Friday.

The plan called for a slow reintegration of high school sports in three phases that would have begun June 1. However, the proposal was rejected by a vote of 7-6.

According to OSSAA Executive Director David Jackson, summertime activities in accordance with current rules and policies as stated in the Administrators Handbook are in place.
With the committee’s plan failing, it is now up to school districts to decide how to prepare for high school athletics while still keeping student-athletes safe from the coronavirus.

This did not sit well with many coaches and administrators.

“I am not comfortable with districts handling their own protocol,” Lawton MacArthur High School coach Odell Gunter said. “There needs to be one system for everyone and I thought OSSAA was going to handle that.”

Jackson, who led the proposal to the board, said school districts can start summer activities immediately.

Programs such as the Elgin High School football team announced later in the day on social media that their annual Summer Pride will start June 1.

“To say that I’m disappointed that the OSSAA voted to not approve guidelines for member schools to follow for reopening athletics, would be an understatement,” Southmoore High Athletic Trainer Chris Trobaugh said. “This would’ve been the perfect opportunity for the OSSAA to lead the way and put student athlete safety and health on the forefront. The NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) plan already mentions athletic trainers being an important part of this process. They could have taken the baton and ran with it. Instead, they excluded their Sports Med Advisory committee and made the decision to let board members, who don’t adequately represent their membership, decide for the masses.”

The decision to reject the three-phase proposal was announced Friday afternoon at the OSSAA’s virtual Board of Director’s meeting.

Board members who voted no include Craig McVay of El Reno, Jason Sternberger of Kingfisher, Jerry Needham of Oktaha, Rusty Puffinbarger of Leedey, Rex Trent of Binger-Oney, Bryan McNutt of Antlers and Don Schneberger of Boone-Apache.

Those who voted yes were Rick Pool (Kiowa), Darren Melton (Lincoln Christian), Duane Merideth (Durant), Mike Simpson (Guthrie), Dr. Sean McDaniel (OKCPS) and Jerry Olanson (Glenpool).

Phase one of the proposal would have taken place June 1-28. It would’ve just included strength and conditioning and one-on-one personal instruction. But not group or team practices or camps. It also detailed specific cleaning and disinfecting parameters that needed to be adhered to daily.

Phase two would have started June 29 and ran through July 31. Phase three is when sports such as allowed fastpitch softball, fall baseball, cross country, cheer would have been able to conducts full and open practices starting Aug. 1.

While most school districts have yet to release any of their own guidelines on how they plan to move forward, that hasn’t stopped coaches from raising concerns.

Adam Helms, who coaches track and cross country at Putnam City High said it will be a difficult choice for him. Helms was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) in 2018.

He has been battling the condition since the diagnosis. Because COVID-19 is especially dangerous for those with underlying medical conditions, the OSSAA’s decision to not take the lead is troubling.

“I have to choose between seeing my kids or not,” Helms said. “If they get exposed working out and give it me…it’s most likely a death sentence. Or they wait to participate and get behind. If they would have followed what the association recommended, it allowed for activity to start but remain within healthy parameters and limit the possibility of exposure.”

Board members did not offer any explanation on why they decided to deny the OSSAA proposal.

Jackson told the board beforehand that it was better to be too cautious considering what the ramifications could turn into if something goes wrong.

“I know you don’t want as a board to have to tell any more kids that you can’t have your season, that you can’t have your state tournament,” Jackson said to the board before the vote. “We hope we never have to do that again. So that was kind of our guide as we’ve worked through this.”

Coaches will now wait to hear what COVID-19 precautions and guidelines their school districts will put in place, if any. But because all districts will be on their own game plan, that leaves a lot of unanswered questions.

“I believe this virus is serious,” Gunter said. “I have a feeling there are going to be coaches acting like we are back to normal. We will never have normalcy for a while.”

Michael Kinney Media

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