Prep sports has returned to The Rock.
For the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic halted Alaska high school sports in mid-March, athletes and coaches in three sports held official practices on Wednesday.
The Kodiak High School cross country team met outside the high school before scattering off for a trail run, the tennis team volleyed at Baranof Park and the football team conducted drills at Woody Way Field.
All three shared one thing in common: Enthusiastic participants.
“It’s great getting outside with the team again and getting to enjoy the wonderful weather we are having,” said Jackson Roberts, a rising senior on the cross country team. “It is definitely good for Kodiak to see, that even with the challenges that we are facing, we are still able to push through — even if we are wearing masks.”
Behind all the masks were smiles.
Part of the district’s return-to-sports mitigation plan, participants are encouraged to wear cloth face coverings when not engaged in an activity.
“I appreciate those who wore masks today,” Kodiak cross country coach Ashley Mortenson told the 22 masked runners.
While Mortenson was going over her first-day-of-practice message, her assistants took the temperatures of athletes and asked them COVID-19 questions — protocols the district is asking all coaches to do before each practice.
“It is necessary to ensure the safety of the team and insure that this can continue,” Roberts said.
Roberts, who solo trained after the track season was canceled, had doubts his senior cross country season would happen as COVID-19 cases increased into the summer.
While other regions in the state have high case counts, Kodiak has only recorded 19 cases since April, which paved the way for sports to start on the Alaska School Activities Association’s fall opener.
“We want to practice every day this season — that is our goal,” Mortenson told the team.
While students in Kodiak were practicing, teenagers in Alaska’s largest city learned Wednesday that the Anchorage School District decided to delay fall sports until Aug. 20, citing rising COVID-19 positive cases.
“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,” school officials said in a statement.
The district said it would determine whether sports can begin on Aug. 20 — the first day of school for Anchorage students — based on the risk level.
According to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Anchorage is currently in the high level, which is more than 10 cases per 100,000 population. Kodiak is at the low level (fewer than five cases per 100,000 population), and the Kenai Peninsula and Mat-Su Valley are both at the intermediate level (between five and 10 cases per 100,000 population).
Since most Kodiak teams do not play schools based in Anchorage, Debbie Rohrer, the Kodiak Island Borough School District activities director, said Anchorage School District’s decision to delay fall sports should not impact the Bears.
The Kodiak football team is not scheduled to play an Anchorage team until Oct. 2 when it travels to Eagle River for a Northern Lights Conference game. Kodiak’s volleyball team is slated to attend a tournament at Dimond at the end of October.
ASD said a shortened fall season is likely.
Rohrer said she is waiting for updates on what the Mat-Su Borough School District’s approach to fall sports is. Kodiak volleyball, tennis and swimming share a conference with Wasilla, Palmer and Colony, all of which are in the Mat-Su district.
Wednesday’s official practices were the first for Kodiak students since the Alaska School Activities Association ended spring sports on March 23.
The football team is set to host the first game of the fall season against North Pole on Aug. 21 or 22.
“They all have schedules, and we plan on going by those schedules that we have, with the understanding, and the coaches understanding, that any point in time those schedules could look different,” Rohrer told KMXT on Tuesday.