The traditional fall high school sports started their 5-week “mini-session” at Baker High School on Oct. 12, preparing for what they hope is a return to regular competition in 2021.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) has postponed games.
But the OSAA, which sanctions high school sports in the state, set up three separate practice periods this fall.
The first, for traditional spring sports — baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track and field — ran from Sept. 7 to Oct. 9.
The current season for fall sports — football, soccer, volleyball and cross-country — started Monday, Oct. 12, and continues through Nov. 13.
The final mini-session for winter sports — basketball, swimming and wrestling — is set for Nov. 17 to Dec. 18.
Regular, OSAA-sanctioned sports seasons are slated to begin Dec. 28, the first day practices are allowed for traditional winter sports — basketball, wrestling and swimming. That season concludes March 6.
The season for traditional fall sports is set for Feb. 22 to May 1, and the season for traditional spring sports will run from April 19 to June 26.
Back with her players for the first time since June, varsity volleyball coach Ali Abrego is excited to return to coaching. For the next four weeks, Abrego has one objective in mind: Building their competitive culture.
“That is going to carry us through not only through these challenging times but into the spring season as well,” said Abrego, who is in her first year as Baker’s head coach.
After working with just a handful of players during the summer, Abrego is excited to have the bulk of her team practicing now.
“I’m super excited about it, I’m a really competitive person,”said Abrego, who played volleyball at Powder Valley High School. “To instill my core values and my expectations of what it means to play for Baker volleyball is going to be a prime focus.”
Practicing during what would usually be their regular season, Abrego said she needed to change her mentality.
“It’s interesting, you go from playing at the beginning to the middle of August and now we are starting at the middle of October,” Abrego said. “As a coach you have to change your mindset to get yourself in a position to teach your kids.”
As the first indoor sport to start a mini-session, Abrego intends to keep her practices as normal as possible.
“If that means we have to stagger practice times, depending on the number of girls that come out, so far we have 29 girls registered for the fall miniseason,” Abrego said.
Abrego recognizes the challenges of adhering to COVID-19 precautions.
“That creates a bit of a challenge when you’re trying to introduce new rotations, new team strategies like ball placement when you only have cohorts grouped together in pods,” Abrego said.
She is optimistic that Baker will be able to schedule at least one unofficial match against another area school before the mini-sesssion ends Nov. 13.
“Hopefully we can have the opportunity to play a contest, but it’s just really building our family at this point,” Abrego said.
Although working on drills and in front of the net is important, another objective for Abrego is for her student-athletes to be mentally healthy.
“Making sure they are taking time to really reflect on the positives and maybe some of the needs that are not being met,” Abrego said. “Reaching out to myself and other members of the coaching staff just checking in and touching base with us.”
During the summer practices, Abrego said she was able to comply with OSAA guidelines related to the pandemic, including modifying certain drills to limit contact between players.
“Moving forward, I intend to keep those same protocols in place,” Abrego said. “I just think as fast as we want things to go back to normal we have to make sure we are doing it the right way. Injury prevention, athlete safety and COVID protection, those are all super important to me.”
Growing up in North Powder but new to coaching at BHS, Abrego is thrilled for this opportunity.
“I appreciate the opportunity that I have to work these group of athletes and I am very eager and very hungry to compete at our highest ability,” Abrego said.
Although the football pads will remain in their lockers, the Baker Bulldogs football team will be out practicing, and according to varsity head coach Jason Ramos, the Bulldogs, who advanced to the Class 4A quarterfinals in Ramos’ first year as head coach in 2019, will treat it like business as usual, even if the situation isn’t.
“We are going to treat this like we normally treat early season practices,” Ramos said. “We’ve got some kids that are going to come out that are kind of new to the program and we got a lot of guys that are returners, that are going to come out as well.”
Expecting a pretty good turnout, Ramos intends to go a couple hours every evening throughout the week to get his players back in shape.
Because football players are still not allowed to have physical contact due to COVID-19, Ramos plans to focus on individual performance and drills.
“We are going to try and do as much as we can; of course we aren’t going to have pads on but that’s how we start every season,” Ramos said.
He intends to incorporate more group-oriented drills, specifically seven-on-seven practices later on in the mini-session.
“That is going to be an approved activity for us,” Ramos said.
Toward the end of the session, Ramos is hoping the football program will be able to host an event under the lights for the community while maintaining spectator numbers.
“They can come out and watch us run some drills, maybe have a couple of competitions and get our big guys involved, maybe a big man competition,” Ramos said.
One of his main goals during the abbreviated session is to ensure players are well-acquainted with the Bulldogs’ offensive and defensive systems.
“Getting into our playbook a little bit and kind of treat it like an extension of the actual season,” Ramos said. “As a program we just want to take this time to teach a lot; we are going to do some film study and be out on the field working through some big picture stuff.”
Ramos concedes that dealing with the new schedule, practicing during what would normally be the heart of the season with a game to prepare for every Friday, has been strange.
“We feel like we should be playing and our kids are kind of feeling it too,” Ramos said.
Player safety has been a major focus for the football program during the pandemic, Ramos said.
“We know we have to follow the protocols, so our kids are going to wear masks and maintain that 6 feet of distance; in terms of hygiene we are always encouraging them to just be smart about that,” Ramos said. “We have to check kids’ temperatures obviously before practices or any events.”
Ramos wants to reassure the community that the football program knows the importance of keeping kids active and connected.
“That’s kind of our focus, we are going to work on some things and hopefully make them better,” Ramos said. “Also throw in some fun stuff and we know the community is missing it as well, as much as we are.”