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Willoughby South football permitted to return to practice despite all schools in district being closed due to COVID-19

The Rebels are scheduled to play Benedictine this Friday in a playoff game.
Credit: Tricia Stuckey, 3News

WILLOUGHBY, Ohio — Despite a COVID-19 outbreak that had brought the Willoughby-Eastlake school district to a standstill, high school football appears to be a go for this Friday night.

In an email sent to parents and obtained by 3News, Willoughby South head coach Matt Duffy confirmed his team would be permitted to return to practice on Wednesday, two days before the Rebels' scheduled second-round playoff game against Benedictine. This comes just a few days after administrators suspended in-person classes at all district schools "until further notice" after several students and staff members either tested positive or were exposed to the coronavirus.

While practice will take place, more stringent protocols will be in place: Players in different grades will have to show up at separate times for temperature checks, starting with seniors at 2:30 p.m. and continuing down in age every five minutes. Additionally, social distancing and masks or gaiters are required, and players must wear the latter while practicing but can pull it down while competing on the field.

"These kids and my staff have gone above and beyond to keep this thing going," Duffy wrote in the email. "They have grown up and battled through a number of things. I am proud of them and we hold them to a higher standard as we move forward."

Duffy admitted some people will not agree with the decision to resume football activities, and reiterated he will send home any player that does not adhere to health guidelines. So far, at least one local game set for this weekend has been canceled due to virus concerns, with North Olmsted opting out of its matchup with Avon due to a potential outbreak of COVID-19 within the team.

Friday's matchup will take place at 7 p.m. at Euclid Panther Stadium, where Benedictine plays its home games. The return to practice does not affect Eastlake North High School football, as the Rangers were eliminated last weekend against Garfield Heights.