Gov. Mike DeWine, coaches and players teamed up Friday to urge the 400,000 Ohio middle and high school students who play sports to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
In a 45-minute press conference at Thomas Worthington High School, student-athlete Tait Beegle summed up the message: "I don't know — just get your vaccination. It helps so much."
DeWine and OHSAA officials held a press conference at the suburban Columbus school, where DeWine's grandchildren graduated and his son-in-law coaches track and cross country.
Roughly 347,000 Ohioans under age 20 have been vaccinated so far. Roughly 400,000 Ohio middle and high school students participate in sports each year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is an increased risk of spreading COVID-19 while playing close contact or indoor sports and recommends vaccination.
DeWine did not call for mandated vaccination as a condition of participation in school sports or other extracurricular activities.
TWHS track and cross country coach Bill Darling said the public health crisis led to a 40% decline in students who participated in cross country last fall.
"We believe in our program and the lessons and the values that it teaches and we feel that we help them prepare for the challenges that life is going to throw at them. And to have approximately 40% of those kids just decide not to participate and miss out on that experience was discouraging for us," said Darling, who is DeWine's son-in-law.
Olentangy Liberty High School golf coach Shayla Glover said the public health crisis put a hold on team dinners, fundraising and an in-person banquet at the end of the season. "We had to do a virtual online banquet. While it was a placeholder, it just wasn't the same," she said.
Vaccinated players don't have to quarantine and escape much of the stress and anxiety tied to the coronavirus, she said.
"The players want a season. Parents want a season. Everyone in Ohio wants these players to have a season. And we can have a season, if we get vaccinated," Glover said.
Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.