That was the word used most often by area high school coaches on Thursday when talking about the Kodiak Island Borough School District’s decision to suspend on- and off-island athletic competition through September due to COVID-19.
“I can’t say that I’m surprised, and while I’m 100% supportive of the decision, I’m also just personally disappointed for me and my athletes,” Kodiak cross country coach Ashley Mortenson said Thursday afternoon.
Debbie Rohrer, the district’s activities director, met with coaches Wednesday to break the news. Previously, the district had suspended competition through August.
“I hate it because I feel like all I’ve done has been the bearer of bad news this year,” Rohrer said. “It is tough for everybody. You definitely feel for the kids, but also everybody else.”
Earlier in the week, the Mat-Su Borough School District decided to have district-only competition through Oct. 14, while the Kenai Peninsula School District shut down sports for the majority of its schools after the area slipped into the high-risk COVID-19 level. Rohrer said both those decisions led Kodiak to halt travel through September. She said the district would reexamine the situation in September.
“A lot of our games that were set up in September are either Kenai-related or Mat-Su-related,” she said.
The decision impacts tennis, football and cross country the most, with championship events for those sports held in early October. Volleyball and swimming both finish in November. The swimming season has already been pushed back to begin on Sept. 2.
Bryan Ellsworth, Kodiak’s third-year football coach, said the team would continue to practice even with no games on the horizon. He told his players during Wednesday’s practice. The last game on the football team’s schedule is Oct. 2 at Eagle River. The Division II playoffs begin Oct. 9, with the championship game a week later.
“I’m struggling with it,” Ellsworth said. “Just like anybody else would be, you want to compete, and you want your players to compete.”
The state cross country meet is scheduled for Oct. 10 in Anchorage. Mortenson is clinging to hope that the championship meet will take place. She will continue to hold practices and stage community runs around town. On Saturday, the team is competing in the Pillar Mountain Run.
“It’s good to have the time to train together and practice together. I’m so grateful to have that, especially since we didn’t have that during track,” Mortenson said.
She said the runners in community have rallied around the squad.
“There is a silver lining to be really present in our community and participating in our local events — we have a whole lot of community support,” Mortenson said.
The volleyball team started practice on Aug. 5. The girls scrimmaged community members on Wednesday and will continue to do that to fill the void of playing other high schools. Kodiak coach Amy Willis also said she has discussed with other coaches about conducting virtual skill competitions.
“We already set up our season to be exceptional. We knew that we were going to need to keep some excitement in our gym if there is not the excitement of travel, which I think Kodiak kids are raised to crave,” Willis said.
Willis said it’s a blessing that she gets to conduct practices, while the Anchorage School District limits teams to an hour of conditioning a day. According to the Kodiak COVID dashboard, there are only two active cases on the island. That puts the area in the low-risk category, while other regions have been hit harder.
“There are lots of folks with a level of concern with going back to school, but I think our leadership is really strong, our community has been taking it very seriously, and our kids have been taking it seriously. They want to have these opportunities. They had a lonely spring and are excited to be in the gym with each other,” Willis said.
Rohrer said the district is working on setting up an intramural sports program.
“We have to have things for the kids,” she said. “It is really going to be hard to keep kids interested and involved when there is not a light at the end of the tunnel right now.”