MOUNT VERNON — After the Ohio High School Athletic Association released its guidelines for the upcoming season without a clear-cut decision on the fate of fall sports, Mount Vernon athletic director Justin Sanford had plenty to say about the state of sports right now.
The News spoke with Sanford for more than 40 minutes on Friday. In the candid conversation, Sanford critiqued the guidelines, vented some frustration and opined on switching fall and spring sports. Here is Part 1 of the two-part conversation.
Question: What did you think of the guidelines?
Sanford: It’s good to have something … we’ll start there. It’s good to have something given that we’re eight days away from the start of fall sports. Everything is a recommendation and until there official guidance that comes from the Governor (Mike DeWine) … it’s a good starting point. I think there’s a lot of local decisions that need to be made, from local health departments and local school districts. Yes, this is a good starting point, but it’s still going to take time once we hear what those guidances are from the governor to make sure that — whether it’s Knox County or Franklin County or Richland County — are all on board with how we can safely navigate the fall seasons.
I can tell you that every AD in the state of Ohio has six, seven, eight variations of what they presented to us (Thursday). We’ve all been formulating our own thoughts and plans — whether it’s variation one, two, three or 12. You just get tired of writing them because you’re just waiting for that overall decision to come out.
So, was it good that we got them? Yes. Quite honestly, I’m very fearful of the downward trajectory that this is going. From the (Atlantic 10) to the NCAC canceling fall sports to Colt football here in Mount Vernon that just pulled the plug. The Fairfield County (Department of Health) issued a letter to Fairfield County schools and recommended to them to not have fall sports.
It’s going to be a domino effect when one county says, ‘Our schools cannot or will not participate in fall’ for the next domino to fall. I’m just fearful that the trajectory that we’re on right now, that we’ll even have a fall sports season given the cases and so on.
There are some challenges even in the recommendations that they put forth. There are some unanswered questions in spectator capacities, temperature checks for all spectators and mandatory masks for all spectators. We have, for the most part, volunteers that staff our events. To put a volunteer in a situation where you have to tell somebody that they can’t come because of their temperature or they need to put a mask on. It’s just logically, there’s a lot of challenges with it.
Question: What would you do?
Sanford: I guess my two cents of it is this: Our primary contact sports all happen in the fall with soccer, football, cross country — if it’s designated as a contact sport. Those all happen in the fall. This is my own personal opinion. This is not reflective of how Mount Vernon City Schools feels. Given the trajectory that I believe we’re on in terms of the challenges faces us with contact sports, it would make a lot of sense — and it’s an all or nothing — to flip the spring and the fall seasons. The reason that I say that: Primarily, with the exception of lacrosse, those are non-contact sports in the spring. Baseball and softball and volleyball have already been safely competing this summer with COVID. Everything that the governor rattled off (Wednesday) in his news conference in terms of where this contact tracing has come from backyard barbecues, bars, parties. None of it is from a high school summer baseball game.
Question: Because of the numbers, don’t you think switching the season would cost spring sports two consecutive seasons?
Sanford: We don’t want the potential or the possibility of canceling two spring seasons and I understand that. My argument to that is, they’re competing already and from those numbers and from contact tracing, it’s working. It’s not coming from summer baseball games (or) softball games. It’s, it’s from other things. So, can we, especially when they’re in our control, mandating the mass and mandating spectator socially distance and in doing all those things. And we’re playing schools in our county. They’re not traveling to Myrtle Beach to be in a softball tournament in a hotspot. (They’re) staying in Ohio. For the most part, they’re in (their own) county.
I just feel that there’s a greater chance for us to have three seasons this year given a situation where we are, in this downward trajectory, by doing it this way. And like I said, it’s my personal opinion. I’m sure it doesn’t mean a whole lot to anybody. I’m just really fearful where we’re going.
Everybody knows football revenues drive up high school departments and intercollegiate athletic departments for that matter. It drives the ship. For the potential of losing a football revenue, could have far greater impacts on all the other sports than take the chance or the bold move of flipping the seasons. And it would have to be all or nothing.
I think at this point where we are right now, our best option, again my opinion. (It’s based on) 22 years as an AD. My opinion, not Mount Vernon City Schools, my opinion is our best option at a season is a spring season played in the fall.
There’s a lot of smart people down at OHSAA, ADs, superintendents, board of directors. We can navigate through all of the logistical concerns of football and soccer being in the spring. There’s a lot of smart people that we can navigate through the logistics of flipping a season and do it relatively quickly without jeopardizing losing another season of competition. And that’s where, like I said, I’m just fearful of the trajectory that we’re on, that our kids are going to lose out on here.
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