The long timeout continues for Anchorage high school students, who learned Wednesday they won’t be able to return to fall sports and other activities until classes begin Aug. 20.
Rising COVID-19 cases and the subsequent high-risk status for the Anchorage School District prompted the decision.
“The District will determine whether sports and activities can begin after August 20 based on the community health situation and District risk level,” school officials said in a statement.
Shortened seasons are likely.
The postponement was the second in eight days. A week ago, activities were pushed back from July 29 to Aug. 5.
“I’m getting barraged by texts from parents,‘‘ East High football coach Jeff Trotter said. Some, he said, are asking, “Should I move my kids out of state?” Others, he said, are worried about their kids getting into trouble without football or other sports to keep them busy and motivated.
Kathleen Navarre, the athletic director and flag football coach at Dimond High, is getting texts too, especially from students wanting to know if there will be sports this fall.
“I’m telling them, ‘Stay positive, get outside and get in shape so you’re ready to go,’ ‘' she said. “The hard part will be if the school district continues to push it back. That’s hard for Anchorage coaches and the kids.”
While Anchorage athletes are sidelined, other school districts in Alaska started practice on Wednesday, the date established by the Alaska School Activities Association as the first day of practice for fall sports.
ASAA official Brian Hosken said football teams in Fairbanks, the Mat-Su area and the Kenai Peninsula started practice Wednesday and will be permitted to play their first games after 10 days of practice, or Aug. 20 — the same day Anchorage schools might be permitted to start practice. Add the mandatory 10 days of practice required before a game, and it would be Sept. 1 before Anchorage teams could play games.
“The schedule is really in flux,” he said.
Some districts want minimal travel and it’s likely many games are between teams from the same geographical area, even if that means multiple games between the same teams. There are still plans to hold state playoffs, he said.
The Anchorage School District said it’s developing mitigation plans for each of the activities due to begin this month — football, flag football, cross-country running, swimming, tennis, gymnastics and cheerleading — “in the hope that we can begin a reduced season as early as August 20.”
However, there is no guarantee practices will begin when school does. The district said further postponements are possible “until the community health situation allows.”
High school sports have been on hold in Anchorage and the rest of Alaska since mid-March, when state basketball tournaments were canceled as the virus began to creep into the state. The cancellation of Anchorage’s spring sports followed.
Football teams got a brief reprieve earlier this summer. They were allowed to meet beginning June 6 for non-contact practice intended to get them in shape for full-contact play. Other activities were due to begin Wednesday.
But last week, as the district headed toward high-risk status, football practices were canceled and the start of other fall sports was pushed to Aug. 5. Now the earliest practice date is Aug. 20.
“While we recognize the physical and mental benefits of participation in prep sports and activities, we have a public responsibility to weigh these benefits against the need to protect students and coaches from the increasing risk of exposure in our community,” the district said.
Though no school-sanctioned competitions have been held in Anchorage since mid-March, teenage baseball players were able to play this summer in the Alliance Baseball League, created to fill the void when the American Legion canceled its season nationwide.
The Alliance will wrap up a seven-week season Wednesday with its championship game at Mulcahy Stadium. The league reported one case of COVID-19 among its 14 varsity teams and 14 junior varsity statewide teams — an assistant JV coach tested positive a week ago.
Trotter said summer seasons have been conducted in a handful of other youth sports, including wrestling, soccer and volleyball.
“There’s been travel to Texas and Utah for camps, and they all came back negative,” he said. “The zero positivity we’ve had this summer in wrestling, soccer and volleyball is a good indicator it can be done safely.”
Trotter said he takes the virus seriously. He’s a physical therapist, and he said he shut down his clinic last spring before he was mandated to close. When football players asked if they could conduct workouts on their own, he said he told them the school district can’t dictate what they do outside the confines of school.
“But I told them they have to be smart and follow the same protocols,” he said. That means daily temperature screenings, a daily log of participants and questions about recent travel or exposure to anyone with COVID-19.
“They say, ‘No kids are dying,’ ‘' Trotter said. “I tell them, ‘But you can bring it home to someone who does (die), and I don’t want you to live with that guilt.’ ‘‘
Teenagers can spread the disease, “and that’s what we need to avoid,” he said. “We’re all part of the same team right now.”
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