It’s gratifying to see students from Baker High School and Baker Middle School playing sports again.

Students have missed so much during the pandemic, both in the classroom and on the fields and courts. Sports were canceled during the spring of 2020. The fall “mini-seasons” were an ersatz version, and the last of those seasons had barely begun when it ended due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

But students, teachers and school staff have proved, since elementary students returned to their classrooms in October and middle and high schoolers in November, that they can learn in-person without spreading the virus.

Baker County’s case rate dropped substantially starting in mid-January. The county has been in the lowest of the state’s four risk categories since Feb. 12 and will stay there at least through March 11.

There was ample reason, then, for state officials to approve an abbreviated season for the traditional fall sports — football, volleyball, cross-country, soccer and cheerleading. All are underway in Baker schools. Games, meets and matches against other schools could start March 1.

Unfortunately, spectators won’t initially be allowed at events for the fall sports season, which continues through March 19 for BMS and through April 10 for BHS.

Buell Gonzales Jr., the Baker School District’s athletic director, said he will reassess the fan issue after games have begun, and that there is a possibility that a limited number of fans could be allowed.

In the meantime, Gonzales said the district will livestream home events and, possibly, contests at other schools.

Taking precautions during the pandemic is understandable. And Gonzales’ plan to focus on making sure the actual competitions happen, then looking at allowing fans, is sensible.

So long as Baker County is at the lowest or the moderate level for risk under state guidelines, it should be feasible for the district to allow some parents and other fans to watch Baker students compete at home events (the district has no say over games at other schools).

For counties at the lowest risk, the limit for outdoor events is 300 people total, including participants and fans, and for indoor events it’s 50% of the venue’s maximum occupancy. If Baker County moves to the moderate-risk category, the limits would drop to 150 for outdoor events and to 100 for indoor events.

Those limits obviously don’t allow for the usual crowd for a football game at Baker Bulldog Memorial Stadium. But there is ample space, between the grandstand on the west side of the stadium and the bleachers on the east side, to accommodate a limited number of fans and ensure social distancing. So, too, for volleyball matches in the BHS and BMS gyms.

Soccer matches at the Baker Sports Complex have an advantage in that spectators can see the field relatively well from the parking area. For a cross-country meet at, for instance, Quail Ridge Golf Course, fans could easily spread out as well.

The situation is a bit tenuous, to be sure.

And even with the higher limits for counties at the lowest risk, the number of fans who want to attend in some cases likely would exceed the available capacity.

But students deserve to have an audience when they return to competition. And parents deserve to have a chance to watch at least some of their kids’ games.

It won’t be normal, of course — no student cheering section making enough noise to echo through the stadium or gym.

But what has been normal over the past year?

Even a muted version of the familiar is something to cherish in 2021.

— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald

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