There will be some new faces at high school sporting events across Ohio this school year – inspectors from the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
“This is assistance,” said Beau Rugg, football administrator with OHSAA. “It’s observation and assistance. And that’s what we’ve preached from the start on this, and it’s happened so fast, I mean, I got something from a school that said, I can’t believe you’re sending out spies.”
According to some social media posts, quite a few people may feel like these inspectors are ‘spies’ rather than helpers.
Jeff Collins, the mayor of the Village of Hanover the father of two Licking Valley football players, has plenty of reservations.
“Now, all of a sudden, it’s, you’re going to wear your mask, you’re going to wear a mask outside, you’re going to social distance, you’ll have to stay in your seats, and, by the way, we’re going to come have somebody making sure that you’re doing those things, and it just seems like a step backwards to me from where we started,” Collins said.
He also takes issue with the inspectors being funded with taxpayer dollars. The money is coming from the governor’s office, according to Rugg, although the details have yet to be finalized.
These inspectors are in addition to the already required compliance officers. The state health order went into effect at noon on Friday.
Rugg says the inspectors will work with the compliance officers. And it may be helpful to take the burden off local administrators who may find themselves in sticky situations while trying to keep people they know well in compliance.
“They like having the assistance of what the observations are because they’re doing the same thing, they’re observing and saying, what can we do,” Rugg said. “That’s what it’s about. It’s new, it’s different, you need some feedback, and that’s what we’re looking at. It’s just not a – I want to catch you doing something wrong and punish you. That’s just not what we’re about with this.”
Hearing that explanation did allay some of the concerns from Mayor Collins, but he says he still is not fully on board. And he has reached out to the offices of both Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted.
“We’re a small town, we’re a small community, we’re a tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone, including the administrators, and so that would be awkward, I think, for an administrator to police basically one of his own, I guess I would call it, so I guess maybe, if that’s truly their approach or their reasoning, maybe that was the reason behind it was to take some of that burden off the faculty or the administration that would otherwise have to do that,” he said.
Rugg was at one of the first games held across the state in Hilliard Thursday night. He says he really only observed two issues – the football teams running out from their locker rooms to gather in the middle of the field and a cheerleader group photo where everyone was gathered too closely.
“Two little things, that’s good, comparatively speaking, with everything else,” Rugg said. “I think, what we’re going to see across the state is a lot more good than we’re going to see bad.”
The goal is to have around 100 inspectors fan out to games across the state each with, with their checklists. But they will not be at every game. The goal is to focus on the red counties.
Rugg says the inspectors were part of an agreement with Lt. Gov. Husted because self-reporting and self-monitoring was just not enough to ensure safety. Still, he says he’s quite sure he’ll be fielding more tips and photos and videos from rival teams trying to tell on one another than he will from OHSAA inspectors making notes of violations.
“Believe me, I will get more pictures from just people and fans than I’ll get from anything else,” he said. “The good thing about the observation program is, that’s someone we’re sending out, and they know what to look for, and they can help, and they have that mentality, versus the mentality of the gotcha, I want to take a picture and bust ya and hopefully get a forfeit. It is the total of what we’re trying to look at versus that snapshot.”
And, while inspectors are meant to be observers, they still do have the ability to impose penalties, although the process would begin with written warnings and repeated visits.
Overall, Rugg had high praise for everyone who has come together to make this season happen.
“The parents and the athletes have done incredible work to make this happen, and when you go out and watch games, you’ll see the result of that,” he said. “And you talk about people that have had a lot on their plate to get this done, kudos to them.”
He also touched on parents’ concerns about tournament play. Right now, state rules dictate that each team can only face one opponent each day. Rugg said the current rules have had unintended consequences, so officials are working together to ensure safety while keeping accommodating the reality of competing. He says tournaments will happen.