What will high school sports programs look like this fall?

Scott Swanson

Following Gov. Brown’s July 30 directive to require face coverings for everyone 2 years and older in all indoor school settings, both public and private, school officials were waiting for clarity on how fall sports would look.

At this point, it appears as if they’ll be normal, at least in Sweet Home, Athletic Director Nate Tyler said. 

“We’re moving forward as if it were a normal athletic year,” he said Friday, Aug. 6, as the football and soccer programs prepared to launch their annual camps for kids this week. Regular practices, including two-a-days for some sports, will start Monday, Aug. 16, with others kicking their competitive season off on Tuesday, Aug. 31. 

The state has ruled that sports is a “voluntary activity,” Tyler said, which leaves the decision to require masks up to local districts. “They recommended that masks be worn indoors, but it’s a local decision.” 

Consequently, Sweet Home volleyball players will not be required to wear masks, but they may need to when they play at other schools, he said. 

The OSAA has scheduled a meeting for later this month, and Tyler said he expects to learn more then. 

Meanwhile, Sweet Home and, indeed, the entire state is dealing with another problem: a critical shortage of officials this year. 

Former Sweet Home coach Rob Younger, who now heads the Oregon Athletic Coaches Association, said the problem has been brewing for several years, but “when the pandemic hit, it just multiplied.” 

According to the OSAA, the number of officials registered in Oregon last year was 2,552, a 26.4% decline from the previous year. That’s a 42.1% drop from 2010-11, when the state had 4,412 officials, according to Jerry Ulmer of OSAAtoday. 

He said the lack of participation was due to a number of causes: health concerns, scheduling conflicts created by the pandemic, and some multi-sport officials deciding to focus on a single sport, in part due to seasonal overlaps. 

“Over the past 10 years, official numbers have been going down,” Younger said. “The age of officials, as a whole, has been going up. We’re not getting young officials.”

He said he encourages coaches to talk with players and alumni, particularly those who aren’t moving on to compete in college, about staying in the game by serving as officials. 

“That’s something that’s really, really important,” Younger said. “Like a good friend of mine says, ‘High school athletics without officials is just recess.'”

Tyler said the shortage may cause games to be rescheduled. 

“It’s a tough situation,” he said. 

According to Younger, last season’s football games were moved from Friday night to Saturday, or earlier on Friday, due to the scarcity.

” A lot of times officials would work five to seven contests a week,” he said of the 2020-21 season.  

Things should get clearer as schedules are finalized, Tyler said. 

Also, he added, the high school will stream games as it did during the pandemic. 

“I hope to have full capacity for fans, but I think it’s good having that as a resource for family, friends and fans who aren’t in town.”