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Track officials ponder alternative season

Staff photo / John Vargo The Boardman High School track remains mostly empty these days, with spring sports on hold amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Local officials are wondering what options will surface if schools reopen in the near future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The second and final of a two-part series of stories focusing on how high school baseball, softball and track & field officials are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rob Conklin is staying in constant contact with his fellow officials from the Greater Youngstown Track Officials Association.

Lines of communication remain open with the Ohio High School Athletic Association and the Northeast District Athletic Board.

All Ohio track and field events during the month of April are canceled.

“That’s the term we like to use, ‘whacked,’ with everything whacked through April, we are just in a holding pattern,” Conklin said.

He, like other track and field officials, are waiting just like spring sports athletes to see if their seasons will be played. The OHSAA has taken its cues from Gov. Mike DeWine for its next steps. For now, schools are closed through April due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Spring sports usually begin in late March, and there’s still a possibility it could begin on May 4. So far, baseball, softball, track and field, boys tennis and lacrosse are postponed through April.

April is a big month for track and field with weekly and daily meets. Conklin was usually booked six days a week.

“They’ve all been whacked,” Conklin said. “This is an opportunity these kids aren’t going to get back, all the training and learning. It’s a shame.”

The human interaction many desire is currently separated by social distancing. No meets, athletes or officials. Familiar faces and normal conversations have been quarantined.

“The biggest thing right now is we’re not building any relationships with the kids,” Conklin said. “That’s what we do in track and field. It’s our relationships with our fellow officials we’re really missing. We spend a lot of quality time during and after together. It’s kind of lonely right now.”

Jim Fox, another OHSAA track and field official, takes walks through the Poland Woods. He sees some Poland High School track and field athletes running.

“They’re following guidelines,” Fox said. “They’re not close together. They’re not running in a pack. They’re out there getting some mileage in. I’ve seen the same thing on Glenwood Avenue of the Boardman kids being out.”

Will May be the start of the spring sports seasons? If so, there are plans in place.

Conklin is the tournament manager for the Division I Austintown District and Division II Austintown Regional. He said there have been discussions. One scenario is pushing tournaments back to the last three weeks of June, which is what is being proposed by the OHSAA if school returns on May 4.

“That’s one proposal that’s out there,” Conklin said. “They’ve asked for critiques, pros and cons and that stuff. I’m sure that’s what’s going on in baseball and softball as well. Anything I get is limited to track and field.

“Any adjustment in the schedule poses challenges.”

Fox said his group, the Timing Crew, a local team that provides fully automatic timing to track and field meets, would offer their services to area schools if the season restarts.

“We come up with the plan and the governor gives the OK that the schools are going to open, then we’ll submit that to the area athletic directors,” Fox said. “It’ll hopefully benefit a lot of the area schools. First and foremost, we want to serve this area and our athletes that have been loyal to us over the years. We’re going to try to benefit them as much as we can with the providing them the opportunities to compete.”

Fox does not see the season restarting. His son, Jamie, is an emergency room pediatrician in North Carolina.

“The data he’s receiving is it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better,” he said. “Realistically, I don’t see the school year being finished or the start up of any kind of spring sports.”

Fox said area athletic directors have been in touch with the Timing Crew, either directly or through emails.

He said a possibility is having mid-week meets of eight teams.

“We have to wait to see what the governor says as far as the start of school on (May 4). That’s a key factor for us,” Fox said.

Fox said all spring sports has a dilemma, keeping 6 feet away from all interactions.

“It’s going to be pretty hard,” Fox said. “The other thing, too, the kids are going to be transported on buses to and from the events. What do you do about that? How many kids do you put on the bus?

“Another other issue is sanitation at the event itself. What sanitation procedures are protocol as far as the restrooms, the public areas, things like that where people are going to be. There’s so much at stake that we have a month to try and get ready. Hopefully we’ll get some guidelines here from the state and the OHSAA.”

Conklin said one concern with this push-back plan is there are a lot of older track and field officials.

“The average age of all of the officials is pushing that vulnerable group, myself included,” he said. “There may be a reluctance on some people’s part. I don’t know. It depends on what type of guidance and what the environment is going to look like in a month or a month-and-a-half, whatever the case may be. The degree of reluctance is going to depend on the environment right now. Thankfully I have not heard of any of our local officials that have been affected in any way, knock on wood.”

Beau Rugg, Senior Director of Officiating and Sport Management for the OHSAA, said he has suggestions for these officials if spring sports return.

“The first general comment would be that we would take guidance from the CDC (Center for Disease Control),” Rugg said. “There are certain ‘mechanics’ that we would change like shaking hands with coaches and captains. The safety of the environment is controlled by the schools in regular season play and by the OHSAA in tournament play. We would encourage schools to have similar amenities and actions that we will have in tournament play. We would have hand sanitizers available for officials and communicate with them to make sure they do not report to a site if they are not feeling well.

“Of course, the CDC may have other specific actions for us. I am sure there will be some parameters from the Health Department when we return.”

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