Outlaws athletes are going to be able to get in some modified sports activities this fall.

In the topsy-turvy world of COVID-19, guidelines and rules are ever-changing. High-school athletics have been subject to constant flux since March.

When schools first shut down last spring, hope remained that they would reopen before the end of the year and spring sports would be allowed to complete a truncated season. That dream didn’t pan out and high school athletes were left to fend for themselves when it came to staying active.

Summer came and things didn’t get any better regarding gathering in an organized way. In July, the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) conferred with school leaders to come up with a plan for the 2020-21 school year; that resulted in a “four season” approach.

The plan originally called for Season One to be open with no organized OSAA activities, followed by Season Two (winter sports, December 28-March 7), Season Three (fall sports, February 22-May 2) and Season Four (spring sports, April 19-June 27).

Plans have shifted again and Season One is now open for limited practices and competitions at the discretion of local school districts, according to Gary Thorson, athletic director and head football coach.

According to Thorson, the change allows students and coaches to participate in any OSAA-sanctioned activity permitted by directives from the Governor’s Office, OHA and ODE. This participation may include conditioning, practices, and interscholastic competitions in those permitted activities provided schools adhere to OSAA policies. Health protocols and other guidance are clearly outlined by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Education (ODE), which are subject to county phase requirements.

Sisters has decided, starting September 15, to offer three four-week “mini-seasons” beginning with traditional spring sports (baseball, softball, tennis, golf, track and field, and lacrosse). In October, fall sports will run for another four weeks, followed by winter sports.

Sports considered “full contact” — such as football and lacrosse — will be offered as conditioning only unless the health metrics change during Season One.

Other districts are making different plans, but Thorson and other district leaders believe this plan works best for Sisters.

Thorson explained, “Our district has recognized the need for our students to get safely engaged again, and has set a plan which is a healthy compromise on the engagement spectrum. With us still in the distance-learning mode, it did not make sense for us to have opened things up for athletics on August 31 and dive right into competition with other schools. Our priority is getting the kids back in their seats for class and that means limiting contact and exposure as much as we can.”

The plan adds up to teams being together for about 20 practices during the mini-season and the possible potential for some limited competition.

“In terms of competition, we have scheduled some events for some of the spring sports teams but we are in a ‘wait and see mode’ for those and will only conduct these if the health metrics are continuing in a positive direction,” said Thorson.

The district is working out ways to safely have middle-school activities available as well, according to Thorson.

“We also want to start to get our middle-school student-athletes involved and have opened up middle-school-track ‘practice only’ sessions for them,” he said.

Thorson understands well the complexity and balancing act of keeping students and staff from spreading COVID-19, while also giving students the opportunity for activities that promote physical, as well as emotional, health.

“These opportunities for our students to engage in athletics and other activities for the district are of course optional,” he explained. “Our coaching staff will be following all of the required protocols to safely run our practice sessions and have communicated to the parents that these are not mandatory practices.”

Being outdoors, keeping distance from one another, conducting health checks and working in small cohorts are all part of the plan for safety.

“We realize the comfort levels and health issues vary from family to family and we respect and support everyone’s position, but want to make athletics and other activities safely available to our students,” Thorson said. “Our youth need the physical and social benefits of activities now more than ever, and some positivity for them right now will go a long way.”

Families can register for Season One activities through Family I.D. at no cost, according to Thorson.

“We see this offering as a good way to get kids active again and to try something new,” said Thorson.