Natalie Pitney

In this April 23, 2019, file photo, Holgate’s Natalie Pitney attempts to lay a tag on Tinora’s Sara Stark at third base during a Lady Rams’ win over the Lady Tigers. Non-contact or limited-contact sports leagues in Ohio are permitted to operate beginning May 26.

Editor’s note: This is the second of a three-part series about the status of Ohio high school sports after an exclusive interview with Ohio High School Athletic Association Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass.

After canceling spring sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio High School Athletic Association Executive Director Jerry Snodgrass began trying to put into place just how high school athletics would return.

Following guidelines established by the Ohio Department of Health and Gov. Mike DeWine, which closed school facilities until June 30, Snodgrass lengthened the no-contact period for coaches with their players until June 1.

It was clear by the tone of his voice, Snodgrass was displeased after Gov. DeWine announced Thursday that non-contact or limited-contact sports leagues, such as baseball and softball, are permitted to operate beginning May 26.

“It creates more uncertainty to deal with to provide guidelines to schools,” said Snodgrass, who on Friday lifted the no-contact period for baseball, golf, softball, swimming and diving, tennis and track and field.

“That is the No. 1 confusing thing,” added Snodgrass. “We are not in control of school facilities, the department of health is.”

Snodgrass further reiterated this in a memo he wrote to athletics directors around the state when lifting the no-contact rule for six sports.

“Lt. Gov. (Jon) Husted indicated (Thursday) that local departments of health will determine the safe reopening of school outdoor facilities,” Snodgrass wrote.

The advisory board set up by the Ohio Department of Health to set guidelines to safely reopen sports leagues did not have a single member of the OHSAA on it.

“While (DeWine’s) reopening of sports appear to be directed to all non-school sports (club/travel/AAU/et cetera) they do have implications on school districts and regulations for school coaches and student-athletes,” Snodgrass wrote in the memo. “This is especially true for the number of non-school sports that utilize school facilities.”

Previously, the OHSAA suspended the 50% rule, which limits the number of members on a team that can practice or play together, in basketball, field hockey, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, volleyball, baseball and softball, beginning Memorial Day for baseball and softball and June 1 for the other sports.

With the no-contact rule also being lifted May 26 that would allow teams in those sports to begin practicing, or possibly playing games, after those dates and if they can meet the safety standards set up by the Ohio Department of Health. Teams may have to hold practices and games off site if school facilities remain closed.

Athletics directors in Henry County worry student-athletes, especially those that play multiple sports, could be pulled in too many directions and that activities off campus could present other liabilities.

“I have already begun working on that and have a Zoom meeting with my female sport coaches,” said Napoleon Athletics Director Andy Ham. “We talked about when we are able to get back creating a schedule. We have a lot of double and triple (sport) athletes and we need to establish something so we are not pulling athletes in too many directions.

“We also don’t want them doing so much as to get them injured,” added Ham. “There needs to be an acclimation period. We are fortunate here that all of the coaches work well together. They understand the well being of the athlete comes first.”

“It is something I will have to discuss with my coaches,” said Holgate Athletics Director Richard Finley. “It is hard for us to make the decision on our own without input from the state. I would just like to see what that would look like.”

“This is a concern,” acknowledged Snodgrass. “But at the same time our regulations, as they were, allowed for coaching for 10 days (in the summer). June had become a time for basketball, while football had settled into July.

“Giving unhindered numbers will provide challenges,” Snodgrass continued. “We’re comfortable with schools making schedules for the summer. They can take ownership.”

As for playing games, possibly even seasons, in the summer, Snodgrass said he was for it, if it can be worked out within the schedule.

“I believe in our coaches,” said Snodgrass. “I think the kids should be with their coaches. We should give them the opportunity they were denied because they couldn’t have a regular season.”

He added there were no eligibility restraints in the offseason so players who had just graduated could play on teams and it was each coach’s decision to allow it or not.

Still, there is some worry about what playing games would do for the preseason workouts for fall sports teams beginning in August.

“As much as I would like them to play, I am not sure it is feasible,” said Ham.

So even with the baseball and softball, and other none or limited contact sports set to begin play in a week, the landscape for high school athletics continues to face many questions.

Leading Snodgrass to add in his memo, the OHSAA will provide additional updates on the other OHSAA-sanctioned sports as soon as the governor’s office provides that information and “every intent is to align with the governor’s orders.”

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