School district says ‘no’ to full-contact football

The Lincoln County School District chose to not allow its high school football programs to compete in full-contact outdoor practices and games while Lincoln County remains in the state’s high risk category. Last week, Gov. Kate Brown reduced pandemic-prevention guidelines for outdoor contact sports, allowing schools in extreme and high risk categories to opt in to play full-contact football if they’re able to meet increased safety measures. (Photo by Michael Heinbach)

Wednesday protest rally planned

NEWPORT — Community members from throughout the county unhappy with the Lincoln County School District’s intention to forego a full-contact high school football season in the coming weeks sprung into action shortly after the district made its announcement late last week.

The district announced Feb. 12 it chose against hosting full-contact football at its high schools. Some of those disappointed with the decision started a petition on Feb. 14 to urge the district to reconsider its decision. Nearly 350 people had signed that petition before 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

“Our kids have suffered enough, and we draw the line here,” reads an invitation to sign the petition, found at https://bit.ly/37izLye. “Let our kids play! We have been more than understanding, extended massive amounts of patience and stayed extremely positive throughout this mess, but LCSD has gone too far this time. We urge Lincoln County School District to hastily reconsider their decision!”

Organizers, who created a Facebook group under the name “Let Them Play Lincoln County,” also plan to hold a rally from noon to 1 p.m. today (Wednesday) at the corner of Highway 101 and Highway 20 in Newport to protest the school district’s decision.

“Essentially, this all started last Wednesday when the governor gave the OK for football,” Ashley Catalfamo, rally organizer and Waldport Irish Booster Club president, told the News-Times. “There was just such massive excitement and joy from the football team in general, and for just a moment they felt a sense of normalcy for the first time in a long, long time. Then the Lincoln County School District came out on Friday and pulled the rug out from under them.”

On Feb. 10, Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority reduced statewide COVID-19 prevention requirements for schools and organizations wishing to provide outdoor contact sports such as football. Guidelines now allow for schools in counties in the state’s extreme and high-risk categories the option to have full-contact outdoor football with additional protocols in place. Schools in low and moderate-risk counties were cleared for outdoor contact sports.

Because Lincoln County is in the state’s high risk category, the new statewide guidance gave the Lincoln County School District the option to provide football at Newport, Taft, Waldport and Toledo high schools and Siletz Valley Charter School.

“In such counties, sports organizations must offer on-site responsive 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,” read the Feb. 10 release from Brown’s office. For schools to provide football in extreme and high-risk counties, they must have some in-person schooling occurring with the goal of reaching hybrid or full in-person student instruction this school year. 

Following a daylong meeting on Feb. 11, involving LCSD Athletic Director Majalise Tolan and school and district administrators, the school district issued a news release late Friday morning that dashed the hopes of many who’d hoped to see full football practices start Feb. 22, with games beginning on March 5.

 “In following Ready Schools Safe Learners return to school protocols, LCSD did not expedite return to school measures that would require on-site testing by March 1,” the schooled district release read. “We will not be opting in to require this testing for athletics. On Feb. 8, the OSAA Board approved options that include 7 on 7, Flag, Virtual Lineman Challenge, and Virtual Combine football with more details to follow. LCSD has every intention of offering a Season 2 football option in a county league format following OSAA guidelines.”

The district added that it would reevaluate should Lincoln County get downgraded to the moderate risk category. The state evaluates data and changes county risk levels every two weeks, meaning Feb. 26 the earliest Lincoln County could move into the moderate risk category.

Multiple messages left by the News-Times for LCSD Superintendent Karen Gray, Tolan and Newport High School football coach Dan Schaffeld went unreturned prior to the News-Times’ print deadline. However, the district issued a clarification statement just after 3 p.m. Tuesday.

“The following is further clarification of how the school district will respond if and when the county metrics change from ‘high risk’ to ‘moderate risk,’ which we hope will be as soon as Feb. 25 when the county makes its next risk category announcement,” read the Tuesday statement issued by district communications specialist, Kristin Bigler. “Our COVID numbers are down, and if this continues, we will bring back full-contact football for those schools wishing to do so.”

There district further stated, “It is a fact that the numbers are still high enough here to have to stay at high risk, so it (the original decision) is about safety. It is also about district liability and student privacy.” 

A letter from Catalfamo to the school district reads, “Our kids have continued to step up to the plate for LCSD for almost a year. They have pivoted, and pivoted and continued to step up to the plate. There has been very little done to celebrate what our kids have been through; very little acknowledgement of their strength. It’s time that LCSD steps up to the plate as well.” She hadn’t received a reply to this letter as of Tuesday morning.

The school district plans to begin practices Monday, Feb. 22, for non-contact football, volleyball, and boys and girls soccer and cross country programs. As of the News-Times’ deadline, no information was available regarding what form non-contract football will take. 

 “While at high risk, spectators will not be allowed to attend the events, with the exception of senior immediate family members at one home contest per sport determined by their school,” the district wrote in its release last week. “We will celebrate our seniors! We know this is disappointing news, but it is necessary to meet facility capacity requirements and monitoring measures. We will continue to monitor our spectator regulations as country metrics change.”

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