With Baker High School about 6 weeks away from starting what won’t be an ordinary school year, student-athletes will have to wait even longer to compete against rival schools.
On Wednesday the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA), the organization that oversees high school sports in the state, announced that due to the COVID-19 pandemic high school football is postponed indefinitely.
Other fall sports, including volleyball, soccer and cross-country, can start practices Aug. 17, but their first games or events won’t happen before Sept. 23.
The original schedule would have allowed games as early as Aug. 27.
“I wasn’t surprised, you know we are disappointed after holding out hope,” said Buell Gonzales Jr., the Baker School District athletic director.
High school athletes have been able to participate in informal practices and workouts since June 12, with the hope they would be able to start regular practices, and have games, on the usual schedule.
But the OSAA’s announcement this week means the games, at least, will be delayed.
“We knew there was a good chance that this could happen,” said Suzy Cole, the BHS cross-country coach.
Cross-country is the one fall sport that OSAA considers as having a lower infection risk.
Cole said it’s relatively easy to maintain social distancing between runners during practices.
Large meets, which can involve dozens of runners, would be more challenging.
“Our biggest issues would be transportation, and finish lines, there is so much more that goes into every sport that makes the big picture a lot more difficult than what some people may realize,” Cole said.
Though it’s still possible that cross-country will have a season in 2020, Cole can’t help but feel sympathetic for the Bulldog football program, which was hoping to build on its run in the Class 4A playoffs last fall.
Football, along with wrestling and cheerleading, is considered a higher risk activity for spreading the virus.
Volleyball and soccer are moderate risk sports, according to the OSAA guidelines.
“It just stinks for the football players, it’s just a hard position for all sports, but different sports just have different needs,” Cole said.
Although BHS football players were able to toss the ball around and work on their conditioning this summer, physical contact wasn’t allowed.
Gonzales said he remained optimistic about football in part because Baker County has had fewer confirmed cases than most of Oregon’s 36 counties — 19 cases as of Friday.
“We were holding out hope that they might give local control, that they might close it down in those counties that are really effected,” Gonzales said. “We are in a tough spot having few cases and doing a pretty good job social distancing.”
The future for fall sports remains uncertain, especially for football.
Among Oregon’s neighboring states, Washington has postponed high school football until next spring, and California won’t have high school football until January at the earliest.
Mason Van Arsdall, a starting lineman who will be a senior at BHS this fall, said he wouldn’t mind having football moved to spring.
“We are all talking about how we can all start working out together and get ready for hopefully a spring season,” Van Arsdall said. “We are going to keep practicing following the COVID guidelines and getting ready for the next season.”
Despite the uncertainty about which sports will be played this fall, and when, Gonzales said he is working on alternatives that wouldn’t involve Baker athletes competing against other schools.
“There are things we are working on where we can offer extracurricular activities just within the Baker School District,” Gonzales said. “That’s going to be one of our main focuses is just getting that set up so kids aren’t just stuck in the house all day or just have to go from school to home.”
Although Cole said the situation is disappointing, she understands that the top priority has to be the safety of students.
“I have tremendous respect for OSAA, and I know they are always doing everything that they can to allow kids to participate,” Cole said.
More information is available at osaa.org, by clicking on the COVID-19 tab at the top of the page.