By Jeff Harrison
Usually, the words “Play Ball!” are associated with the start of a baseball or softball game.
In this case, however, when Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gave the “green light” to contact sports moving forward despite the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, that phrase could easily be changed to “Play Football!” or “Play Futbol!”
In conjunction with the Ohio Department of Health, DeWine announced Tuesday afternoon that fall “contact” sports at all levels could proceed just in time for the 2020 season to begin.
Soccer season is slated to start Friday (Aug. 21) while varsity football games will begin as scheduled next weekend (Aug. 27-28-29).
Both Noble County schools will kick off the shortened six-game regular season schedule on Friday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m., with Caldwell hosting Eastern and Shenandoah traveling to Belpre.
Caldwell’s soccer team doesn’t open until Thursday, Sept. 3 when the Redskins host Wheeling Central.
The other fall sports (volleyball, cross country and golf) were already slated to proceed as planned. Both local volleyball teams open Friday at home – Shenandoah against Buckeye Trail and Caldwell against Frontier – and both cross country teams are set to debut in the Marietta Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 29.
“We all know the importance of sports,” said Gov. DeWine. “Sports matter and they provide things like discipline, order, structure and bring joy to the athletes and their families. We believe our order provides the best guidance to play sports as safely as they can be played in the era of COVID-19.
“We have certainly heard from parents and athletes, we’ve talked to coaches, doctors, health experts and school officials,”DeWine continued, “and we know just as going back to school in person increases the risk of spread. We know sports, particularly contact sports, do as well. The more spread in a community means the higher risk for spread in the school.”
As far as spectators, it appears that only family members of players, cheerleaders and band members will be allowed to attend.
“The focus should be on young people, but it’s also important, I believe, for a young person to have people there to support them,” said DeWine. “Many times it’s family members, but it might be someone else who is very, very close to that young person. We will not have spectators other than family members or people very close to that particular child.”
Enforcement of the limited attendance is being left up to the individual schools, and details from the athletic departments at Shenandoah and Caldwell will be provided once they have been finalized.
“I hope this inspires our student-athletes, who have a strong desire to have a season, to be as careful as they can 24-7,” said the governor. “I hope coaches will use this as an opportunity to focus on helping young people to understand what’s really at stake. If they want to continue to play, they’re going to have to do everything they can to keep COVID-19 out of their team.”
Details of the new order are expected in the next day or so, but it will not have a requirement for testing of the athletes or coaches.