After KFOR story on Oklahoma runner missing regionals because of COVID-19 exposure, state officials reverse course


UPDATE: After KFOR aired the story regarding Austin’s situation, the OSSAA made an accommodation that will allow him to participate in the Regional Competition.

Officials tell News 4 he will run alone on Oct. 29 for the State qualifying round.

Original Story:

SALLISAW, Okla. (KFOR) – COVID-19 is dashing a young cross country runner’s hopes after a classmate tested positive and has him quarantined, despite his own negative test.

The quarantine means he’s going to miss the most important part of his season, and officials over the statewide competitions say there’s nothing they can do about it.

“I was looking forward to progressing more to see how much farther I could go this year,” said Austin Campbell.

It was supposed to be his year on cross country. Running has been his life, and the Sallisaw Central junior believes he was on track to be an all-stater.

“This year I really started to figure it out a little bit,” he said.

But last Thursday, a classmate tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the school to quarantine him for two weeks.

The dedicated runner won’t be allowed to compete in regionals Saturday, and that means he won’t have a chance to qualify for the state meet which is to be held on October 31.

“This just kind of sucks honestly,” Austin said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through it.”

His parents also fear missing this opportunity could also affect his college prospects.

They’re holding onto hope that the Oklahoma State Secondary Activities Association will have a solution to help him.

However, the OSSAA executive director, David Jackson, told News 4 in an email that, “to change the qualifying procedures for the State Cross Country Meet could open the door for others to make the same request for non-Covid situations.”

“As long as there is official documentation stating they have been ordered to quarantine because of a certain reason then I don’t see how that could open the door for other non-Covid related participants to be in that situation,” Austin’s father, Andy Campbell argued.

His family also pointed out that concessions have been made for other sports, like football, whose qualifying seasons were also affected by COVID-19.

When News 4 pressed Jackson on what made the two different, Jackson responded, writing, “As unfortunate as this situation is, to allow someone to advance to a State Championship contest without qualifying for it would create more issues than you might realize.”

Carla Campbell said she has watched her son devote his life to running, and do all the right things when it comes to social distancing inside a classroom (wear a mask, sit six feet apart, etc).

She said she doesn’t believe it’s right that he should be treated differently, especially when she believes his sport is naturally much more socially distanced than football players together on a field.

“There has got to be something that the OSSAA can do,” she said.  “I just feel in my heart that there is something they can do. Not just for Austin but for all the students involved.”

Austin is humbled by the people in his life fighting for his right to compete, and he’s trying to maintain a positive attitude as he watches the opportunity pass him by.

“I would have never guessed that my season would end like this,” he said.

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