Celts may return to gridiron action

McNary quarterback Erik Barker runs through the South Salem defense for a first down in a game from 2019 (File).

After the OSAA delayed making a final decision on high school football earlier in the week due to COVID-19 restrictions, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown released new guidance on Wednesday for outdoor sports that would make a return of high school football a probability this spring. 

Football teams around the state began non-contact practice on Monday, Feb. 8 in preparation for a season that they weren’t sure was even going to happen — contact sports have been prohibited by the state for nearly a year. Now, outdoor contact sports will be allowed to resume depending on the risk level of the county.

“It’s not lost on me that this decision will allow high school football to resume” Gov. Brown said. 

Following the healthy and safety guidelines from Oregon Health Authority, full-contact football practices and games will be allowed to resume in Lower Risk and Moderate Risk counties starting this week. 

For High Risk and Extreme Risk counties, such as Marion County, schools and youth sports organizations have the ability to opt-in to resuming football practices and games with additional protocols in place — such as site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing and a waiver identifying health and safety risks as well as committing to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19.

“This has been a difficult year for Oregon’s youth athletes and, as our COVID-19 numbers have dropped, I have been committed to working with our health experts to reevaluate our protocols for sports,” Gov. Brown said. “School sports play an important role in fostering students’ mental, emotional, and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families, and their communities.”

Schools wanting to opt-in for the football season must also have limited in-person instruction taking place with a plan to move to a hybrid model later in the school year — all counties currently meet the requirements to hold limited in-person instruction. 

“If our school gyms, fields, and weight rooms are to reopen, we owe it to Oregon’s children to make sure our classrooms, libraries, and science labs fully reopen as well,” Gov. Brown said.

Gov. Brown also stated that if the state experiences increases in COVID-19 cases, that outdoor contact sports would be shut down again, which is why she encouraged student athletes to be responsible in their social interactions off the field. 

“To all of Oregon high school athletes: I am asking you now be leaders in your communities. We’ve given you the chance to play, but with that opportunity comes great responsibility. If COVID-19 numbers spike, we may have to shut down contact sports again. When you are off the field, set the example for your peers: wear a mask, maintain physical distance and avoid social gatherings,” Gov. Brown said. 

The OSAA Executive Board is meeting on Wednesday Feb. 17 to make a final determination for all Season 2 sports.