NORMAN, Okla. — Norman Public Schools, along with Oklahoma’s other school districts, will adhere to its own set of health and safety guidelines this summer.
The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association's attempts to provide uniform policies for member schools to resume sports fell through Friday morning. NPS athletics director TD O’Hara said the district will still craft regulations to best protect its programs.
“Our top priority is the safety of our student-athletes and coaches,” O’Hara said. "I personally feel that we've got to make sure we have a solid plan in place that meets those priorities. We've got to make sure we have this thing right."
The OSSAA called for a special board meeting to propose a three-phase plan to reopen high school sports after shutting down its state basketball tournaments and spring sports in March.
The proposal featured a two-month timeline that would gradually ease the association’s member schools’ athletic programs back into their facilities.
The OSSAA presented and debated the proposal during an hour-and-a-half Zoom meeting, which attracted nearly 500 attendees from school administrators, coaches and parents.
The motion failed 7-6.
The plan’s rejection means high school sports can reopen immediately under the OSSAA's standard handbook policies, leaving each district to enforce its own health and safety regulations amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Member schools must observe the OSSAA’s regular dead period, which is set for June 28 through July 5. Cross country, fastpitch softball, volleyball and fall baseball can begin organized practices July 15 as planned. Schools can also hold team camps and clinics.
The OSSAA's rejected proposal recommended regulations to its member schools with health and safety guidelines, starting June 1.
The original plan allowed schools to provide one-on-one in-person instruction and strength and conditioning through June 28. Team practices, camps and clinics were not permitted during this phase.
The second phase, planned for June 29-July 31, added activity specific instruction but for no longer than 60 minutes. The third phase, set for an August 1 start, allowed fastpitch softball, fall baseball, cross country, cheer and non-athletic programs to open practice.
OSSAA executive director David Jackson said the plan the board rejected was not meant to be perceived as a mandate, rather a recommended procedure to follow.
“We don't want to come across as heavy handed in this thing,” Jackson said during the meeting before a vote was taken. “If we're to have the fall activities, we all have to work at this thing. We've got to come together and understand, even in areas where the virus [hasn't] had a big impact, I think as a membership we we all have to come together and have to make this work to have a fall.”
Barring any changes at the OSSAA’s next board meeting on June 9, NPS and others now shoulder the responsibility of safety plans for their athletic programs, which could include some collaboration between districts.
“We’re going to be in constant communication with other school districts to use that as a foundation on how our plan looks moving forward,” O’Hara said, “while also trying to maintain the equity and fairness to our student-athletes as far as the opportunity to participate.”
The district plans to take a careful approach to the situation, especially considering its student population size.
When teams do return to their facilities, summer workouts won't look the same despite the district’s freedom to regulate itself.
“When we do get the green light, whenever that is, obviously it's not going to look anywhere close to what it was,” Norman High football coach Rocky Martin said. “We're going to stagger it out, we're going to make sure the numbers are the right and then we're going to keep our social distancing.”
Norman North football coach Justin Jones said the district’s done a phenomenal of being proactive, well before Friday’s decision.
Jones said he expects the district to continue to do so through an unprecedented situation.
“If we always default back to what's best for our athletes, and what's best for their safety and keeping their safety first and foremost,” Jones said, “then I think we can't make a wrong decision.”