Summit County health officials encouraging districts to delay fall sports until October

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SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio (WJW) — School systems and their athletics departments are still navigating how to safely start competitive sports for the fall semester.

“A common concern for all is kind of a lack of centralized direction,” said Akron Public Schools Coordinator of Athletics Joe Vassalotti.

Summit County Public Health sent a letter to their school districts after they say several requested some advice.

“There’s a lot of guidance out there that they’re sorting through trying to figure out what works best for their district,” said Summit County Health Commissioner Donna Skoda.

In the letter, schools are encouraged to delay the start of competitive play to Oct. 1, shorten the competitive season for moderate and high-risk sports and limit spectators to 2 per athlete or consider eliminating them altogether.

“We certainly don’t want sports to not be a part of kids’ lives. I mean it’s really good for kids but it’s dangerous right now just because of the close contact,” said Skoda.

Vassalotti says they’ve been working with the county health department and following guidelines from the Ohio High School Athletic Association for summer warm-ups as teams practice with each other. “With proper protocols in terms of PPE supplies and symptoms checks.”

But traveling and contact with other schools, he says, presents challenges. “A delayed start to the fall season might be beneficial for that reason, to give us more time to accumulate supplies and get protocols in place for competitions.”

For fall sports, Summit County Public Health categorized football and field hockey as “high risk,” volleyball, soccer and cheerleading as “moderate risk” and golf, tennis and cross country as “no contact low risk.” They also categorized winter and spring sports.

“We tried to really look at sustained contact and just how likely a child was or a young adult was to be able to wear a mask,” said Skoda.

Some of the risk levels differ from what the OHSAA has put out which Vassalotti says can be confusing with planning. He noted OHSAA does encourage schools to follow local and state health department guidelines.

Still, he’s hoping students get some benefit out of a real season, something spring athletes missed out on. “Maybe that means only league games are conducted. That’s better than no season at all.”

The caution from the health department and Vassalotti comes as they both say cases have popped up in school districts across the county this summer.

“We had two student athletes who have tested positive, so we went by our guidelines there for keeping them away from the team for 14 days and in the cases where the student athlete tested positive,we also shut that team down for 14 days.”

Skoda says they can’t approve school plans, they can only advise and help in the process. She says even if districts forgo their recommendations, they’ll still help in whatever way they can.

“I think we’d all, and I say we meaning athletic directors, coaches, superintendents I’m sure would like a directive, a mandate an order, and really that’s only gonna come from Governor DeWine, the Ohio Dept. of Health and the Lt. Governor,” said Vassalotti.

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