WORTHINGTON, Ohio (WCMH) – Friday morning, Governor Mike DeWine called on Ohio’s student athletes to pick up the state’s vaccination rates.

“The vaccine is our ticket for a full season. The vaccine is our ticket to allow our athletes to live up to their dreams,” DeWine said.

The Governor held a press conference on the track at Thomas Worthington High School, flanked by high school athletes and coaches from Central Ohio schools. Several took turns explaining the difference they saw in their athletic experience between the fall 2020 and spring 2021 seasons.

“During our football season it was always a worry about testing positive or contact tracing. You didn’t want to be that guy that would end your teammates’ season,” recalled Sonny Styles, a rising junior at Pickerington Central High School.

He said receiving the COVID-19 shot has given him peace of mind visiting at-risk family members and recruiters at potential colleges around the country.

Bill Darling, the boys cross-country and track coach at TWHS who also happens to be Governor DeWine’s son-in law, added, “Every week in track, it just got better. The weather was getting warmer, the numbers were going down, the percentages of Ohioans that were vaccinated was going up.”

Earlier in the week, Governor DeWine said around 54-percent of Ohioans ages 12-17 have started the vaccination process. He credits incentives, like the Vax-A-Milion scholarship program, for helping the numbers. But he acknowledged the rates are slowing and lagging significantly in some areas of the state.

ODH Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said although younger people generally experience less severe symptoms and effects from COVID-19, there are rare issues like Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MISC) and concerns children could be carriers who put higher risk individuals at risk.

“Guardians, coaches, teammates, you have an opportunity. Vaccinating yourself is, of course, the best way to protect yourself… but it’s also the best way to protect a lot of other people you care about,” said Dr. Vanderhoff.

Doug Ute, the assistant director for the OHSAA, said he’s frequently asked about what the fall sports season will look like for Ohio teams and responds that it depends on vaccination and infection rates.

“I encourage everybody to take that next step, and do what the governor is asking, and has provided for us. Take that next step and get that vaccination,” Ute said.

Friday’s press conference came as Ohio’s State of Emergency expired and some remaining health guidelines, like visitation restrictions in nursing homes, were lifted. But despite the loosening restrictions and falling case numbers, DeWine raised concerns about emerging variants and dwindling vaccination rates jeopardizing a return to “normal.”

He reiterated, the best way to protect from regressing is to encourage more people to get the shot. Players, coaches and others echoed the sentiment.

“Players want a season, coaches want a season, parents want a season, everyone in Ohio wants these players to have the opportunity to have a season. And we can have a season if we get vaccinated,” said Shayla Glover, a teacher and girls golf coach at Olentangy Liberty High School.

The governor said he plans to release more information and guidance about vaccination rates next week.