Vale High School football coach Jeff Aldred sorts through uniforms last week as he prepares to lead his team to a spring season. (The Enterprise/Liliana Frankel).

VALE – An announcement by Gov. Kate Brown last week will clear the way for outdoor contact sports – including football – in Malheur County.

Brown declared Feb. 10 that the Oregon Health Authority was prepared to allow outdoor sports even in counties with a high number of Covid cases.

“School sports play an important role in fostering students’ mental, emotional and physical health. We will proceed with caution, to ensure that teams are following health and safety precautions to protect our athletes, their families and their communities,” Brown said.

In a press release from Brown’s office, outdoor contact sports will be “permitted to resume with health and safety protocols in place based on county risk level” this week.

New guidance from OHA is expected to permit football teams to start practices this week and begin the season March 1. 

There are several conditions, though, to resuming outdoor contact sports.

Schools must provide “on-site testing for symptomatic individuals and close contacts, contact information for contact tracing, and a waiver identifying health and safety risks and a commitment to isolation and quarantine if exposed to COVID-19,” the state announcement said.

Malheur County is now listed in the extreme risk category by the state.

While schools in the county can return football to the field, indoor contact sports are still prohibited. That means no sports such as volleyball.

The shift in allowing some sports was triggered because of a changed Covid situation in the state, said Charles Boyle, deputy communications director for the governor’s office.

“At the beginning of the school year, Oregon faced the prospect of fall and winter surges, which threatened to overwhelm hospital capacity across the state and necessitated restrictions on indoor and outdoor activities,” said Boyle.

Boyle said Brown was “committed to revisiting Oregon’s sports guidance as case rates decline, as they are now.”

Boyle said the reason the state requires schools in extreme risk counties such as Malheur to opt in for contact sports is in case the state Covid trend reverses and more cases appear.

In the fall, the state’s capacity to test and contact trace was not as robust as it is now, said Boyle. Boyle said the advent of such items as the Abbot BinaxNOW rapid test and plans by many school districts to begin in-person instruction in the spring played a role in the governor’s decision.

In the Vale School District, the elementary and middle schools are open to in-person instruction. The high school was scheduled to reopen fully Monday after Covid outbreak several weeks ago closed the facility.

In Nyssa, all schools are open for in-person instruction. Ontario opened up limited in-person instruction for elementary and middle school students on Wednesday, Feb. 10 In-person instruction for Ontario High School students is slated to begin soon.

The governor’s announcement caught Vale School District Superintendent Alisha McBride by surprise and left her “with more questions than answers.”

“We’d have to evaluate the guidance to make sure we can meet the requirements,” said McBride.

McBride said the governor’s announcement “provided some hope for the first time in a year.”

“But the other question I have, when I read it, does this change volleyball? Indoor contact sports, basketball and wrestling, continue to be prohibited in all counties. But is volleyball defined as a contact sport?” said McBride.

The fate of a volleyball season still remains unknown. However, soccer and cross country practices began Monday, Feb. 22 with a six-week season slated to being March 1.

Jeff Aldred, Vale High School football coach, said the governor’s announcement was “pretty exciting.”

“We are going to start our first workout tonight and I know I am going to see a lot of happy faces,” said Aldred last week.

Aldred, though, said there are a lot of details still to be finalized before the first football cleat hits the grass.

“For these seniors, this is a big deal,” said Aldred.

The Vale football program handed out gear on Sunday at the high school. Mandatory practices began Monday for the Vikings.

In Adrian, Bill Wortman, Antelope head football coach, said football players are “excited to get back on the field and be part of our team.”

“We have four or five seniors that will play and we have a big junior class and we have a big sophomore class this year. We will probably have three or four freshmen on the team and it’ll be fun,” said Wortman.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

Prep soccer and cross country will start up again but volleyball canceled, football uncertain

Malheur County's high school sports year scrambled - football in the spring

YOU CAN SUPPORT THIS KIND OF WORK

The Enterprise relies on community support to fund vital local journalism. You can help us do more.

SUBSCRIBE: A monthly digital subscription is $5 a month.

GIFT: Give someone you know a subscription.

ONE-TIME PAYMENT: Contribute, knowing your support goes towards more local journalism you can trust.