Fall sports: Soccer, cross-country get green light; practice starts in two weeks

Members of the Ontario boys soccer team mob Julian Tellez, third from the left, after a late goal to tie the game up at 1-1 with La Grande in October of 2019. Due to COVID-19 mandates and closures, soccer will get a truncated season this spring with practice slated to begin in two weeks.

ONTARIO

It’s official: two of the several fall sports that got pushed into spring for students in Oregon schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic now have the go-ahead to practice. Soccer and cross-country are now in the clear to begin practice ahead of their blunted seasons, according to an update from Oregon School Activities Association on Monday. Volleyball and football, however, are still unknowns at this point as they are contact sports, which are currently disallowed.

“We’ll see what comes down the line with volleyball and football,” said Josh Mink, athletic director for Ontario School District in a phone interview on Monday, adding that OSAA “has ideas on what alternatives could look like for those two sports.”

Mink was about 30 minutes into the latest video-update from OSAA and said what he knows for sure is that no matter what is approved, there may be no room for fans, as school sports fall under the guidance put forth by Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority for indoor and outdoor recreation.

“Right now, according to OHA guidelines, we wouldn’t be able to allow fans,” Mink said, noting only 50 people are allowed at events outside.

He pointed to a soccer match as an example.

“By the time you have two soccer teams that carry about 22 per team, plus coaches, officials and anyone else you want to run the game, such as a clock operator or athletic trainer,” event capacity would be met.

Broadcasting home games

However, Mink said that Ontario School District has plans in place to broadcast home games, and that details are still being ironed out as to whether it would be done on YouTube or the National Federation of High Schools.

“Hopefully, people can be sitting at home with a heater on and provide an experience more comfortable than standing along a fence in the cold,” he said.

However, there may be limitations with recording soccer games at the soccer fields at Alameda as there is only a limited amount of electricity there.

Broadcasting games played in the gymnasium and the football stadium should be much easier, per the Pixellot system just installed there, courtesy of NFHS.

“They’re pretty awesome,” Mink said of the recording systems, which have multiple lenses that overlap the entire playing field or court, then mends the film together — all hands-free — so the footage follows the ball.

“Those just got installed last week,” he said, adding that schools were offered a good deal on the Pixellot equipment which the NFHS has worked to get into schools across the country due to the pandemic.

Ontario does not plan to charge to broadcast its games, Mink said, however added that he couldn’t guarantee others in the league who are broadcasting will be able to offer it for free.

“Some schools might charge for the game,” he said.

What about fans?

The hybrid Eastern Oregon Greater Oregon League for the approaching modified 2020-21 season will include Burns, Vale, Nyssa, Ontario, Baker and LaGrande. Other schools, such as Mac-Hi, will stay nearer others in the Eastern Oregon League with similar state metrics for reopening due to COVID.

Within the league, “we’ve all committed that while in extreme zones, for the fall sports season there will be no fans. But, as things go down, we will revisit for spring and winter sports and as we can, allow fans.”

Mink cautioned that it is unknown yet how that will look as metrics change frequently. However, he said it may mean only parents or guardians of the home team, or both teams.

“We have talked a lot of different scenarios for that,” he said. “That’s why having these cameras is great for our fans.”

As the school will get to utilize the cameras for five years, the plan is to use them to keep broadcasting games even past the pandemic.

“Anything we can offer in any capacity to get kids out there and exercise safely is something we are excited about.”

‘Light at the end of the tunnel’

Jaime Gonzalez head boys soccer coach at Ontario High School, said that activities and school go hand-in-hand for some students.

“With school, a lot of them, that’s what keeps them in school,” he said.

However COVID has been taking a toll on motivation.

“It’s just changed their whole mindset. Everybody is tired of COVID,” Gonzalez said. “This is something that could maybe give a little positive light at the end of the tunnel.”

Gonzalez is hopeful that getting students back into activities and in-person classes will get them motivated.

“They are definitely excited, and the coaches are, too,” he said.

Typically soccer has a summer preseason, starting in June or July with the actual season getting underway in late August or early September and going through October or November, depending on how league play goes. Each season typically averages 40 to 50 students trying out for varsity and junior varsity teams, but getting those numbers now seems difficult as there will be a lot of last-minute word-of-mouth push to get enough players for one team or maybe two in time for the short season. Other struggles related to numbers include whether students are struggling in school, Gonzalez said. However, he remains hopeful saying, “that’s what we preach first, is schoolwork.”

Another challenge, he noted will center around distant learning.

“A lot of students have been inactive,” he said.

As such, they may get injured when they come in to play because they might not be in tip-top shape.

And parent may be upset over fans not being allowed at games. However, Gonzalez pondered whether they might just drive up the street and watch from their car windows.

“It’s going to be a strange season. It’s just not going to be the same,” he said.

However, they will work hard within the six-week season to play two games a week.

“I’m happy to be back, but I’m worried about how soon we have to get everything done.”

Ontario Boys Soccer team first game is tentatively scheduled. If everything goes well, they will play Baker City on March 2.

“Things are just flowing and changing back and forth so fast,” he said.

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