WALLOWA COUNTY — As COVID-19 surges in parts of Oregon, its victims include the fall high school sports season. On July 22, the Oregon School Activities Association made a decision to prohibit high school football, although a final decision has yet to be made.
Volleyball and cross-country — and soccer for those schools that have it — are postponed until Sept. 23, but team practices for these sports are eligible to begin Aug. 17 as originally planned.
The OSAA Executive Board will review and possibly update its decision at its meetings during the week of Aug. 3.
Wallowa County’s athletes and coaches are dismayed and upset, but resigned to following OSAA’s decision. Wallowa football coach Matt Brockamp said he was really disappointed by OSAA’s decision.
“Denying kids the opportunity to play sports is a terrible thing for today’s youth,” he said. “I think it’s going to devastate small schools, and schools in general.”
He expressed concern that without football, some programs, and perhaps even small, rural schools might close if students transfer to schools where football is being played.
“I’ve talked to coaches at some schools like Adrian,” he said. “They are going to lose perhaps 20 kids from that school. They’re going to transfer to Idaho, where football is going to be an active program this year.”
Brockamp was more concerned that the guidance and structure football programs provide to students will be missing from their lives.
“I think that without football, some kids are going to become despondent. They’ll go work, and move on,” he said. “I do know of a few in Wallowa who are going to be gone.”
It’s Wallowa running back and team co-captain Tristin Bales’ senior year and he was looking forward to improving on last year’s team record.
“It means I won’t have a chance to play my senior year, and that was going to mean a lot to me and to the team,” he said.
Brockamp hopes Oregon officials will change their minds.
“I hope that OSAA and the state of Oregon wakes up,” he said. “OSAA is still committed to giving opportunity to play. But the state has decided that football is a prohibited sport, at least for the fall, so we are out of luck. Some kids don’t have a safe place to go if they are not in school. Without the support system of school and sports, it’s a scary thing that I think can be much more detrimental than COVID-19.”
Concerns about sports cancellations extend to basketball, although the OSAA has made no official pronouncements.
“Our teams were on the brink of having a breakout year,” Wallowa basketball coach Cody Lathrop said. “(Joseph basketball coach) Olan Fulfer and I were looking forward to meeting in the state 1A playoffs. It’s really disappointing. We’ll just have to see what happens with OSAA decisions.”
Wallowa School District Superintendent Tammy Jones emphasized that although the word “prohibited” seems dire, the OSAA decision on football is not finalized.
“There has been some talk of rules being different depending upon the county or communities,” she said. “We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s possible that football could be played in the spring this year.”
In a statement released on July 22, the OSAA Executive Board said:
“During the past few weeks and months we’ve received countless emails advocating for the safe return of school sports and activities. The OSAA Executive Board and staff share the passion and desire expressed by this communication and have been advocating with the governor’s office accordingly. Just as schools will not look the same in the fall of 2020, it’s clear that school sports and activities will not either.
“Football is considered a full-contact activity per the governor’s and OHA guidelines and is currently prohibited. No definitive date has been established by the state for a review of this prohibition. Based on strategies provided by the OSAA Football Contingency Group it is necessary that any football restrictions be lifted by Sept. 28 in order to have a modified regular season this fall that would include some type of restructured postseason.”