ONTARIO — Eastern Oregon’s politicians are again campaigning for their part of the state to get lighter restrictions related to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. This time, it’s about school sports and activities.
In a letter to Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday, Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, and Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, said they are in support of loosening restrictions that are in place for sports and activities that are in place by the Oregon School Activities Association.
“We write to you today to voice the concerns of thousands of our constituents who have contacted us with overwhelming support for the ‘Let Them Play’ initiative regarding Oregon’s high school sports and extracurricular activities.”
The “Let Them Play” that Findley and Owens are referencing is a Facebook group called “Let Them Play! - Oregonians for Athletes” which has more than 18,000 members as of Tuesday afternoon. The group has created a website (letthemplayoregon.com) and has a change.org petition that has more than 11,000 signatures (with a 15,000 goal).
In their letter to Brown, Findley and Owens said there is an equity issue in the guidance that was issued as part of phase 2 of Reopening Oregon. Malheur County, along with many other Oregon counties with little or no cases of COVID-19 entered the second phase on Saturday, with some transitioning to that stage as early as Friday.
In guidance for the second phase, Brown is restricting sports that involve participants coming into bodily contact. However, Findley and Owens pointed out that there are exemptions being put into place so collegiate and professional athletics can start sooner than OSAA sports are expected to resume.
“These rules should apply to all athletics equally or should not be applied at all,” Findley and Owens write.
On May 20, the OSAA announced that member schools will be able to control what they will allow to take place at their school facilities when it comes to athletics and activities. That was to start on May 26. However, per Oregon Department of Education restrictions, students are not allowed to enter school facilities in groups until the end of the fiscal year.
These two guidances combined mean that many teams are seeking non-school properties in which they can start practicing while still adhering to state social distancing guidance.
“In border towns like Ontario, teams are traveling across the state line to Idaho to hold practices play games, and participate in tournaments,” the letter states. “If it is safe enough for Idaho athletes to participate in all sports, why is it somehow unsafe for those in Oregon, less than 10 minutes away?”
When she announced her Reopening Oregon plan, Brown specifically cited that crowds at football games might now be seen until at least the end of September.
This is not the first time Findley and Owens have reached out to Brown on the matter. On May 27, the duo wrote to Brown to demand that eastern Oregon schools be given a bigger voice when it comes to reopening. That letter was also joined with letters from most of the superintendents in eastern Oregon.