Although the question of whether or not prep sports will actually happen this fall is still up for debate, Stillwater High is trying to plan the details of how to best host athletic contests in a safe manner.
Last week, the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association told media members around the state that guidelines and regulations for hosting regular season games will be left up to each individual school district. The OSSAA will take over decision making for postseason contests.
In less than three weeks, SHS will host its first fall sports game of the season when the softball squad welcomes Union to town on Aug. 17. Three days later, the volleyball team hosts Deer Creek for its home opener.
Both teams will play on the road before those games, which will come after preseason scrimmages. How will games look this fall?
SHS athletic director Tucker Barnard admitted he wasn’t entirely sure, because it’s been a fluid situation similar to how districts will be having classes in the 2020-21 school year. Barnard did say district officials have been discussing plans, but nothing is set in stone yet because things surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic have been ever changing since mid-March.
“You almost hate to put out publicly what you’re planning for fear that it changes in the next five minutes,” Barnard said. “What we’re planning right now is to host events and travel to events as scheduled.
“Every school will probably have different guidelines and things like that, but for us, we’re planning on requiring masks at events and social distancing – those things you see on the CDC guidelines. That’s where we are as a district. We’re trying to best plan for school and activities and everything we need and want to do while still following CDC guidelines for those activities.”
Since the season-opening contests for softball and volleyball will be on the road – softball at Piedmont and volleyball at Ponca City – the rules set forth by other districts will be something fans and families must keep an eye on.
Barnard believes it should be a combined effort from those traveling to the games and the districts to communicate what will or won’t be required at each school’s venues.
“I think there’s a shared burden when it comes to that,” Barnard said. “If you and your family were going to Oklahoma City to the movie theater or somewhere else down there, you’re probably going to do a little bit of homework on the front end to find out what is the situation there and what are the requirements. I think there is a little bit of a burden on the family to be aware where they’re going and what the requirements are where they are going. At the same time, we want to be a partner in that, and I’m certain that all of the schools will put in big, bold letters what their policies and expectations are for events. … I am certain that we as a department and our coaches are going to be responsible for what the guidelines are when we travel places, and we will also probably have our own guidelines.”
As far as games at Pioneer Stadium, Pioneer Fieldhouse or Coach Park, Barnard hopes fans abide by the rules that will be set forth in the coming days or weeks. Although ensuring everyone is wearing a face covering, which are required by the City of Stillwater, is tough to do, Barnard believes attendees will obey the rules, much as many of them did last Friday at the SHS commencement at Pioneer Stadium.
“I don’t doubt that a lot of that is difficult to police,” Barnard said. “If I use high school graduation from the other night as a guide for how things might go, we weren’t necessarily policing people in the stands, but we were reminding people and we were letting people know what the expectation is. From what I could tell, it looked like most people were kind of honoring those guidelines and expectations.
“My hope is that the members of the community who it’s important to that we have volleyball games, softball games, football games and cross country events recognize our best opportunity to have those events and continuing having those events is to try to distance, use hand hygiene and wear masks to do everything we can to try and slow down the spread of that virus. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but that’s kind of the way my brain works. I’m just hoping that those events are important to people and hopefully they’ll do the things that we think are required to help us continue to have them.”
When it comes to rules on whether coaches will be required to wear masks, Barnard said he doesn’t know yet, but he assumes that might happen. It’s not something he’s thought of just yet, as other things have been ranked higher on the priority list.
The same can be said for players wearing masks or social distancing on the football sideline or the bench at volleyball or softball. Barnard said guidelines for those will be discussed in the near future, but haven’t happened yet.
“Honestly, as a coach, that’s not where I’ve put a lot of my time and energy,” Barnard said. “If they tell me I have to wear a mask, I wear a mask. Ultimately, we want to do whatever those officials determine whatever is the best way and safest way for us to play. … We’re still trying to handle some of the big questions of whether or not we’re going to get to do any of this that some of those details we haven’t quite got into yet.
“There is a whole other thought that if the kids have been practicing with each other all week without a mask on, how much good is it really going to do to put a mask on when they’re on the sideline? I really don’t know the answers to those questions. I do know this – whatever the ones who have the background of studying this disease tell us is the right thing to do is what we’ll do.”
Follow Jimmy Gillispie on Twitter @jgillispie_stw for coverage of Stillwater High sports.