Hoping athletes will have a chance to compete, Oregon shifts school sports schedule later in the year

Gibson Hanowell, left, and Leo Elkington, right, warm up during a cross country practice in Bush’s Pasture Park in early August. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

Salem’s young runners, football, volleyball and soccer players can begin practicing in February, but school athletes can expect a shortened season if they’re able to play at all.

The Oregon School Activities Association executive board revised its calendar Monday, shifting the start of the sports season by two months and beginning with fall sports instead of winter.

In August, OSAA announced plans to start the sports season at the end of December, but scuttled that schedule Monday in the face of rising Covid cases.

Fall sports like cross country, volleyball and soccer can begin practicing outside in late February and will wrap up by early April, but some activities will hinge on Marion and Polk counties exiting the “extreme risk” category.

That’s a state designation based on the number of new Covid cases reported in a two-week period and the share of tests for the virus that are positive.

Indoor volleyball will only be allowed in counties not deemed “extreme risk.” Football players can begin practicing in early February.

To move out of the “extreme risk” category, Marion and Polk counties would have to record fewer than 200 new Covid cases per 100,000 residents over two weeks and reduce the percentage of Covid tests that are positive to 10% or fewer.  

Both counties are currently at more than double that rate, according to the latest data from the Oregon Health Authority. An update is expected Friday.

OSAA said the revised schedule will allow time for case counts to decrease and for counties to move out of the extreme risk category.

“While disappointed that we need to adjust our original schedule, we believe that keeping three distinct seasons, albeit in shortened seasons, maintains potential opportunities for all students moving forward,” said Peter Weber, OSAA Executive Director, in a news release.

Larry Ramirez, director of high school education with the Salem-Keizer School District, said athletic directors are meeting Friday to come up with a preliminary plan for how to safely return to practice next year.

“At this point I think all of us that love athletics and activities will take anything we can get,” he said.

Ramirez said the school district wants kids to return to sports, but that will depend on getting case counts down in the county.

“If the metrics allow, we want to get to a place where we can compete,” he said. “We’re holding out hope.”

Spring sports like baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track, can begin practicing on April 5 and will end their season the third week of May.

Winter sports like swimming, basketball and wrestling are slated to start in mid-May and end in late June. Outdoor swim practice is currently allowed in all counties, and indoor practice is allowed in all but the extreme risk counties.

OSAA said shifting winter sports to late spring provides the best chance for athletes to  play if Covid precautions are lifted because those sports mostly take place indoors.

Activities like choir and band have been pushed to the end of the school year to give the program an opportunity to rehearse in person if allowed. Cheerleading and dance schedules have also been shifted to later in the year to allow more time for the weather to improve or facilities to open.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

OUR HOLIDAY SPECIAL: Save 25% and support careful, in-depth reporting on your community. https://www.salemreporter.com/subscribe