ONTARIO — Fans of football in Malheur County will need to get used to a different look for Friday nights.
The traditional late-summer sunsets draped over Vale’s Frank Hawley Stadium are going to look different in March and April.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Oregon School Activities Association released a new version of the 2020-2021 athletic calendar, which condensed all the seasons to seven weeks, pushed the beginning of sports back to the new year and switched the traditional fall sports to the beginning of spring.
For Vale football coach Jeff Aldred, the news on Wednesday was somewhat expected.
“It’s better than nothing,” Aldred said. “We all saw what happened with last year’s spring. But I’m trying to be positive. I think a lot about the seniors and how tough it is for them… I’m excited that there’s a plan.”
Aldred said he is currently worried that a potential outbreak in the winter season could lead to the OSAA pulling the plug on sports altogether as most students statewide will be in distance learning for the fall term.
Football players statewide will be strapping on their pads for the first time on Feb. 22, which will surely be a change from late summer. Aldred said it’s not uncommon for afternoons in late winter to be below freezing, something the players will have to adjust for.
“This last spring was very mild, but you never know in this area what you’re going to get,” Aldred said.
After a “pretty trying” summer with multiple changed coming from the OSAA, ODE and schools due to coverage changes from PACE, Vale volleyball coach Shannon Steele said she is thankful that there is finally something that looks like a true schedule put together.
“Probably the most important things is that we are offering the kids some form of normalcy,” Steele said. “Of course the kids are a little upset about not having a normal season, but at this point I’d just hate for them to miss another season. Especially the seniors, after seeing how disappointed they were this spring.”
With most of her players coming into volleyball season after basketball and wrestling, Steele said she is not worried about any potential drops in team chemistry.
“I work a lot with [Vale girls basketball coach Jason Johnson] and we have a very similar mentality about work ethic and things,” Steele said.
Also the change in the schedule means that Malheur County teams will not be able to compete with Idaho teams (who will have long finished their season by the end of November). Steele said she will miss getting experience against Idaho teams like Fruitland, Skyview and Pocatello.
Steele, who teaches English at Vale High School, said one of the biggest things she has noticed this offseason is how much having sports can aid in the students’ mental health. In the few practices and small workouts that the Vale volleyball team has had this summer, Steele said she has had a record number of players interested.
“It just gives them something to do,” Steele said. “They are thrilled that they are getting to play.”
Because there will be no sports through the end of the calendar year, the OSAA is allowing schools to have optional practices at the discretion of the local school district. The district must be following state and county guidelines for practices. there are to out-of-season coaching limitations, as long as student participation is not required.
The new guidance also allows certain non-mandatory competitions (not unlike summer-league teams) to take place in the fall.
Aldred said the coaches at Vale High School have already drafted a plan that will allow them to work with students in the fall, which he hopes will get the football players adjusted to the playbook before the season starts in March. Aldred said he’s also hopeful that getting more work outs in the fall will keep students motivated academically as they navigate a new term of distance learning.
Regardless of the time of year, however, Aldred said he is positive that people from Vale will be out to support the football program.
“If the scoreboard is lit up and there’s football, we’ll get the support from the community.”