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 the second part of the two-part conversation.
Question: What discussions have you had with the district about plans for the fall?
Sanford: Bill Seder (MV superintendent), Scott Will (MV principal) and I talk daily in regards to what that will look like. Mr. Seder is in conversation with Julie Miller (Knox County health commissioner) almost weekly, meeting with her regularly about school reopening, about extracurriculars, about transportation, all of that. But until there’s true guidance that lists the order.
If you’re going to have a contact sport that every participant and staff member needs to be tested 72 hours in advance of that competition. We don’t have the testing capacity, from what I understand, in Knox County, for them to test every one of our kids, let alone test them every 72 hours prior to an event.
Soccer can play Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and test results are what, a six-day average before they come back. So, soccer play Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. They’re getting tested every other day and won’t even have the test results back from their first one until they played three games. So, who can do that? Ohio State can do that. Major League Baseball and professional sports can do that. Danville, Mount Vernon, we can’t do that. And nor can any other high school across the state of Ohio. So, unless that order of how you can have contact sports is lifted, there’s nothing for us to consider at this point.
But we have had conversations every day about what it would look like. What’s the best means of logistically navigating (with) fans in the stands or no fans? What does that do for revenue? How do we support an athletic department if we don’t have football revenue? Soccer and volleyball — the revenues that come in from them — season tickets (and) season passes. All of that revenue, helps pay for our officials, transportation and equipment. We would run in the red without spectators. It forced the district to pick up the cost of extracurriculars a hundred percent and we’ve already lost you know revenues from the state budget cuts.
So, what’s the next guidance? Is it 50 percent capacity in a stadium? In a gym? What’s that look like? Navigating the logistics of that 50 percent capacity … offer it to parents and families first, and then kind of a first come first serve. Ticket sales until we hit our capacity and then no more ticket sales fans.
Part of the revenues that come from Friday night, certainly a large majority that want to watch that that Friday night football game and see those kids compete. But another large portion of that is the 150 band members and their families that come and want to watch them at halftime perform, home or away.
This recommendation in the football guidelines is reducing halftime to 10 minutes. Well, that eliminates a visiting team’s band from traveling and vice versa when they come to our place because we don’t have time for both bands to perform. So, you’re immediately cut revenue right there from the absence of band parents traveling to and from.
Transportation (is a) huge question in terms of, getting teams to and from facilities, especially if we have to socially distance our kids and coaches on buses. To try and get to a 4:30 p.m. volleyball match or a 5 p.m. middle school football game, when our routes don’t end until 3:45 p.m., but we have to double the number of buses now because of social distancing to get teams to and from. I mean, those are all logistic questions that we’re, we’re looking at. We have potential plans for some of those, but we just we haven’t implemented anything or put anything out because we’re still waiting for that official guidance. Nor, do we even have enough drivers or buses to do that safely or efficiently to get up for an on-time start.
Obviously, we converse — Mr. Seder, Scott Will, myself, other ADs — literally daily, have a conversation. We met with the OCC (Thursday) in Ashland to share thoughts on what they’re potentially doing if this scenario comes up. If we go to 50 percent, 25 percent, how are you going to navigate this? What are you doing with youth programs that use your facilities?
I understand we want to wait and see where numbers are, etc. It’s just every day that goes by, I lose, I more confidence in the fact that our traditional fall seasons are going to be able to go ahead. And that’s where that’s why I said today, I’m just resigned to the fact that, in my personal opinion, I believe the best answer for Ohio for our kids is (to) play the season that has the least amount of contact. If we can flip them, then we, hopefully, won’t lose a football season.
To have it in the spring, we would bring that you know that revenue back and all of our kids still have a chance, to compete to be a part of a team and all the intangibles that go along with extracurricular activities.
So, we continue to wait, but we’re running out of time for an alternative. And that’s the one frustrating part for me is we’re running out of time to look at an alternative. Unless that we (take), what I would say, is a bold and creative decision, by either Ohio High School (Athletic Association) or by the government, whoever that would need to make that decision. It needs to be made sooner or later we will be where we were in the spring and that is canceling a canceling season. And I just don’t think we have to go down that road. I think there’s an alternative.
Question: When does a decision need to be made on the fall season?
Sanford: We already shared this with our coaches the other day and that is, we are progressing as if we are starting fully on Aug. 1. So, we essentially continue in that, that phase three approach are all our kids are able to practice will continue to sanitize, etc. until we’re told otherwise.
Question: Now that Knox County is Level 2 on the Ohio Public Health Advisory System, has there been any change to the way teams are training leading up to that Aug. 1 start date?
Sanford: If we go to red — if we would ever get to that — that’s when we pull back. We have not had any student-athlete or coach (test positive for coronavirus). If that were to happen, then we could scale that (sport) back. But as a program, as a whole, if the county goes to red, then we’re pulling back. If a team is exposed, somehow, an individual, coach, player, etc., then we may pull that team back and revert back to phase one, phase two, etc. But right now, we’ve been very fortunate … that we’ve been able to continue forward.
We feel that we have great safety precautions based on the guidelines that was presented to us. And like I said, we’ve been very fortunate, and hopefully that will (continue). But others around us aren’t necessarily in that same boat.
This statement from Fairfield County health director recommending that you don’t have fall contact sports. That’s defending state champion Pickerington (Central). Two Pickerington schools and Lancaster. If you’re, a superintendent and you get a letter from the health department that says you should not participate in full seasons. And you go against that and something happens. I don’t know that we would be willing to take that risk or liability or what have you. Unfortunately, I think that’s where some of these dominoes are starting to fall and I just don’t want it to be too late that the only option is we cancel fall seasons. So, if something is going to happen in a bold move like I just talked about in terms of the spring, it needs to happen now before you get the fall season started. We start on Aug. 1. We have golf matches that are Aug. 7. So, we’re running out of time, too.
I just don’t want us to keep kicking the can down the road, let’s wait and see, leave it to the districts, etc. Then midway through August or at the end of August, say, ‘You know what? We just can’t do it.’ And then you cancel a fall season. I just think it’s too unfair to (everybody). That’s my two cents.
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