Although the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect Baker County, on Tuesday evening the familiar sound of aluminum bats hitting baseballs echoed at the Baker Sports Complex.
High school athletes recently began summer workouts following guidelines issued by the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA).
On Tuesday, BHS head baseball coach Tim Smith and assistant coaches Al McCauley and Taylor Gulick helped some current Bulldogs — and a few former players — work through a variety of drills.
Baseball, along with other spring sports, were canceled across Oregon due to the pandemic.
Buell Gonzales Jr., the Baker School District athletic director, has been keeping in touch with parents as Baker County entered phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan and student-athletes started working on their skills.
“The intention was just to give parents another venue to gather information, I’ve been trying my best to keep everyone apprised through emails and social media,” Gonzales said.
After sending out links to sites with information about the precautions intended to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, Gonzales spoke to a small group of parents online to explain what their children will be doing when they returned to the Sports Complex and other facilities.
“The ultimate goal is to provide a safe environment for everybody,” Gonzales said.
In addition to social distancing, the OSAA guidelines require students to be divided into groups of 10 or fewer per coach, with practices limited to one hour.
The OSAA also mandates that athletes limit sharing of baseballs, bats and other equipment, and requires frequent disinfecting of equipment.
Most BHS teams are doing some sort of practice or workout or plan to do so soon, with the exception of wrestling, which the OSAA considers a “higher infection risk” sport since wrestlers can hardly avoid close contact.
BHS wrestling coach Brandon Young said he has asked wrestlers to try to do individual workouts at home.
“We are going to be holding off a little bit,” said Young, whose Bulldogs finished fifth at the Class 4A state tournament in February. “We are not allowed to have physical contact, you can do stance and motion drills but that will only get you so far.”
Gonzales recognizes that the OSAA restrictions impose limitations for other sports as well.
“When you have one coach assigned to one group you might lose something, when you have multiple coaches like a pitching coach they are with the pitchers, but if you have a pitcher who also plays in the field they are only hearing things from the pitching coach,” Gonzales said.
OSAA divides sports among three categories based on the level of risk for infection — lower, moderate and higher.
Baseball is a moderate risk activity, as are softball, soccer, basketball and volleyball.
Football is a higher risk sport, and BHS athletes are doing conditioning drills only. According to OSAA guidelines, “contact with other players is not allowed,” and players are not allowed to wear pads and helmets.
Football players can use tackling dummies and sleds, but those devices have to be cleaned between use by each group of players.
Young said that although wrestlers are doing only individual workouts, he said that when regular practices resume he believes the Bulldogs will be well-prepared to stay safe.
“In wrestling we already do a pretty good job keeping things clean,” Young said. “I mean we are already dealing with staph infections, MRSA, impetigo and ringworm. We are already trying to kill a lot of that bacteria. I feel like we are all ready to minimize our exposure to things.”
Despite the restrictions, the first week of practices went smoothly, Gonzales said.
“It was easy — the coaches and myself holding people accountable, giving the expectation that we don’t want a situation where people show up and they are not aware,” he said.
Gonzales said he hopes that OSAA will ease the social distancing requirement for sports, such as baseball and volleyball, that, unlike, say, wrestling, don’t require nearly constant physical contact.
“I’m hoping in the next couple of weeks they come out with like a phase 2B,” Gonzales said. “Where they allow six feet of separation within certain events or certain sports. When you are talking volleyball, cross-country and tennis where there should be the ability to pass closer than six feet, and slowly start working things in.”
As coaches continue to instruct their student athletes throughout the summer, they are proud to see the adjustments they have made in the wake of this pandemic. However, they do see that desire to get back to the way things were before the word “coronavirus” became part of everyday language.
“A lot of them are just hungry, and they want to get after it,” Young said. “They are kind of bored, and we got to keep these guys busy. We are trying to keep everybody healthy but there is a big mental health aspect.”