Patchwork Policy: Oklahoma school sports look ahead to fall season with differing health policies

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Each school district has been left to forge its own way of conducting sports amid the pandemic, but now they’ll have to work out what happens when it comes time for districts to match up.

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association board of directors rejected the three-phase plan for summer sports that the OSSAA staff came up with in response to COVID-19 in a 7 to 6 vote.

“For us to sit here and say that Oktaha has the same needs or the same problems that Oklahoma City has, I don’t think so,” Oktaha Schools Superintendent Jerry Needham said. 

With only an 800-student district, Needham was one of those who voted against proposal. He commended the OSSAA for its effort, but he believes a blanket set of rules each district would need to comply with simply wouldn’t be feasible for everyone.

“At Oktaha I have one high school principal, and the athletic director, and coaches for each program, but I have nobody to police that and I don’t have five custodians to put in the weight room to ensure that every time they go from point A to point B or put down a weight, that we wipe off and wipe it down. I don’t have the personnel to do that. Maybe some schools do,” Needham said.

Oktaha Schools athletic programs are closed until July 15, including the closure of the weight room. Needham said his top priority is doing what’s necessary for students to be able to return to the classroom.

“We need to do what we can do to hope we can open school in the fall, to hope we can have school,” Needham said.

Student safety is also what was in mind when the superintendent for Oklahoma City Public Schools, a 45,000 student school district, voted for the OSSAA protocols. That’s why he decided to impose them on the district anyway.  

But it will be up to districts to organize regular season games with one another, and those News 4 spoke to said it’s too soon to predict what will happen with districts with varying safety measures prepare to meet.

“You don’t want to go too early and say, ‘Ok, I want to go and compete in phase one with other schools,’ then all of a sudden this school has three or four cases show up over the summer, and you’re going, ‘Wait a minute, I’m fixing to play them in game one and they’ve already had three cases?’” said OKCPS District Athletic Director Todd Dilbeck. “That’s the fear of what could possibly happen. You don’t want that to happen.”

OSSAA Executive Director David Jackson said the association likely will not propose new protocols for board to vote on for the fall season.

However, they are waiting, and watching professional and college leagues, as they decide on imposing new safety rules that will apply to everyone in post season games.

“We want to wait as long as we possibly can to develop a definite plan because the way this thing changes, who knows what it might look like at that time,” Jackson said.

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