WARREN COUNTY, Ohio (FOX19) - A Warren County judge granted a preliminary injunction Thursday in a suit brought against state and local officials over rules that treat contact sports differently from non-contact sports.
Interim Ohio Department of Health Director Lance Himes and the Warren County Health District are named as defendants.
The plaintiffs are Southwestern Ohio Basketball, Kingdom Sports Center and the Warren County Convention Center, all variously involved in youth sports (kindergarten-12th grade) in Warren County.
At issue is an Aug. 1 ODH order that governs the resumption of competitive sports in Ohio, which had been prohibited since March 13.
The order makes a distinction between contact and non-contact sports, creating different rules for each.
Contact sports are football, basketball, rugby, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, wrestling, hockey, boxing, futsal and martial arts with opponents. Non-contact sports include golf, girls tennis, volleyball and cross country.
The order permits school-vs.-school scrimmages and games to resume for both contact and non-contact sports but imposes more stringent rules for the former. Those rules are the subject of the plaintiffs’ complaint.
Most problematically, the rules require all athletes and staff members in contact sports to receive a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to the start of a competition.
Judge Timothy Tepe agreed with the plaintiffs that not enough of a difference exists between contact and non-contact sports to warrant the different rules.
The rationale for treating contact and non-contact sports differently, according to Himes’s testimony, is that participants in contact sports are more likely to be in close proximity for a duration of time such that spread of the virus is probable.
Tepe didn’t find that compelling, as Himes later conceded it’s not duration that spreads the virus per se; the virus can spread in a moment — and athletes contact one another for moments in volleyball, for example, as well as basketball.
Himes also conceded part of the rationale for treating contact and non-contact sports differently was to sequence the roll-out of high-school sports. Tepe didn’t agree with that reasoning either.
Other rules raised questions for the judge as well.
COVID-19 testing on the scale ODH required is cost-prohibitive for the plaintiffs, and, according to Tepe, it’s also potentially painful and invasive.
Additionally, the rules prohibit spectators at competitions in contact sports, but spectators are permitted to attend competitions in non-contact sports.
“This is concerning because, practically speaking, parents would not be able to accompany their children, some of whom are as young as four or five, to their sports games,” Tepe wrote. “What if their young children are injured, become upset, sick, or even need to use the restroom and cannot do so unattended? This is burdening contact sport leagues with responsibilities that are not similarly placed on non-contact sport leagues.”
Tepe concluded: “If non-contact sport competition can presumably resume safely with the health protocols for participants and spectators (...) there appears no compelling reason contact sport competition cannot also resume with the same protocols.”
An appeal is likely, but in the meantime, according to Southwestern Ohio Basketball President Tom Sunderman, contact sports can resume competition in Warren County.