The first summertime dead period for high school athletes came and went earlier this month with little controversy, but not without a few dissenting voices.
Most administrators favored some kind of a mandated period allowing the athletes freedom from multi-sport commitments and the training and preparation for activities that have evolved into 12-month propositions.
“I think this new rule is particularly good for multiple sport athletes,” Dale Condict, Wagoner football coach and athletic director, said. “They are required to put in so much time with each sport, so this is probably the only week they are free without consequences.”
Adopted by the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association in March 2018, the policy mandates a nine-day period around the Fourth of July when athletes may not use school facilities or have contact with coaches.
By and large, the initial period (June 29-July 7) did what it was designed to do. At the same time, it became clear that such a rule affected different communities in different ways and that a blanket time frame might not be ideal for every district.
Coaches and administrators were asked their views during the Oklahoma Coaches Association convention this week at the Marriott Southern Hills.
“We already gave our kids off around the same time, so it didn’t really affect us at all,” Mike Jinkens, Okeene superintendent and OCA president, said. “For the most part, the people I’ve talked with were fine with it — as long as it’s applied equally across the board.”
But Jinkens mirrors the attitude of many others who complain that band and performing arts students should fall under the same rule.
“Our band can practice on the same field where our athletes aren’t allowed,” he said. “I think there was some controversy in that. We thought it was for every (activity) governed by the OSSAA and if you’re gonna do it for one, I think you have to do it for all.”
In fact, bands and the performing arts were supposed to be included when the policy was first discussed, OSSAA director David Jackson said. But the input he and his staff received from administrators and band directors changed their minds.
“What it showed us is that the bands are not affected in the same way. You’re doing it for athletes and coaches because they are the groups that need the time off. They’re the ones who seem like they are going 365 days a year,” Jackson said.
“If administrators start to feel differently — that the band people are overworked and those families don’t have a chance to schedule vacations in the summer — then let’s give those people the same opportunities. But we’re not hearing that kind of feedback from the band people at this time.”
In past years, coaches and athletes were reluctant to break their routines even slightly, for fear they might get outworked by rivals and fall behind. From Jackson’s perspective, nobody gets outworked when nobody is working, period.
He sees the dead period not as a “punitive situation” but as a gift. And apparently, many parents agree.
“I wish I could document the emails and text messages we’re receiving from people who are saying, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ ” Jackson said.
The Tulsa Public Schools and many other districts closed all athletic facilities during the dead period and used the time to resurface basketball courts and do other much-needed maintenance.
Policing the dead period was more complicated in districts with multi-use facilities such as Edmond’s Mitch Park YMCA/Edmond Recreation and Aquatic Center, the product of a three-way partnership with the YMCA and the City of Edmond.
The pool was open to Y-member swimmers during the dead period, but high school athletes weren’t allowed — from the Edmond district or anywhere else.
“We can’t shut down the pool because it’s a financial issue for the YMCA,” said Mike Nunley, district athletic director for the Edmond Public Schools. “But I told the OSSAA my coaches wouldn’t be up there and my kids wouldn’t be anywhere near the facility. That was really the only challenge we faced, but there are some bugs in this thing, and I hope the OSSAA feels the same way. I hope we can get these things worked out and have a good dead period that works for everybody.”
Jackson said the OSSAA isn’t opposed to constructive revisions.
“It’s their rule. The administrators pushed for it,” he said. “If they know of ways we can make it better, we want to hear about them.”
He said the OSSAA staff will take the rule to the October area meetings to gather more input.
The OSSAA might want to look at the way the rule affects longtime community events revolving around the Fourth of July. The 61-year-old Glen Winget Memorial Tournament for American Legion baseball had to be altered because storied Bill Doenges Memorial Stadium is owned by the Bartlesville school district.
That meant the three teams with Oklahoma ties in the eight-team field (Bartlesville, Ada and Shawnee) couldn’t play in the host ballpark. Instead, their games were played on a diamond at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
Catoosa was set to host a United States Track and Field Federation regional meet at Frank McNabb Field, but the event was moved to Emporia, Kansas, because Oklahoma athletes couldn’t compete on the school-owned deluxe track.
Other coaches worry the timing of the dead period will disrupt athletes’ preparation for fall sports. Jinkens isn’t so sure.
“The argument is that you work all through June to get your kids in shape and then you take (nine) days off and you’ve lost some of that,” he said. “But a lot of people take off that time already, and I don’t think you lose that much.”