Debbie Rohrer, the activities director for the Kodiak Island Borough School District, is going to bat for her student-athletes during a time when they need it the most.
On a day when the California Interscholastic Federation delayed the start of high school sports until December or January due to COVID-19, Rohrer updated the school board on the impact the virus will have on fall athletics at Kodiak High School.
“I didn’t want to come in and say, ‘We are not even going to try for these kids,’” Rohrer said during a Monday evening Board of Education regular meeting. “I want to try. I want to give it a shot. I think they deserve that.”
The fall season’s official start begins July 29, when football, cross country and tennis start practicing. Swimming and volleyball launch a week later. Rohrer said that those teams, following a mitigation plan, would be allowed to begin their seasons, but coaches would have to be flexible.
“In the time and world that we are living in right now, nine days is a long time and a lot of things could change,” Rohrer said.
Under the Alaska School Activities Association’s return-to-play protocols, sports activities would stop if a community reaches the high-risk level (10 cases per 100,000 population). Activities could still happen in the low (fewer than five cases) and intermediate (five to 10 cases) levels.
Over the weekend, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District ceased sports activities after the Central Peninsula entered the high-risk level. As numbers spike across Alaska, more districts are approaching the danger zone.
Following COVID-19 numbers will become part of Rohrer’s daily routine as teams approach games in late August. She said a decision to play would be made two to three weeks before scheduled events.
“Do we feel like it is safe for our kids to travel, or do we feel like it is safe for that team to travel here? If the answer is no, then we just need to say, ‘I’m sorry, we are not traveling that weekend, and nobody is coming to town that weekend.’”
If COVID-19 doesn’t halt prep athletics — for the second time — on The Rock, travel could.
With Ravn going bankrupt and ceasing operations, sports teams traveling to and from the island have only one option — Alaska Airlines. Rohrer said Alaska Airlines charges double the price of what Ravn did for tickets and have not offered a flat rate for sports teams.
Rohrer said the football team’s Week 2 trip to Fairbanks would cost $18,500 in airfare ($734 per ticket), while the cross country team’s race at Soldotna would cost $534 per runner for a roundtrip ticket to Anchorage. Then, there is the added cost of renting vehicles.
She noted that the tennis program is scheduled to host a meet this fall, but that is in jeopardy because of ticket prices.
“If you look at the numbers financially, teams are not going to be able to afford to come here,” Rohrer said. “They balk at paying $250 for a roundtrip ticket, and they haven’t been able to do any fundraising, just like our kids haven’t been able to do any fundraising.”
To limit travel, Rohrer said the administration might have to examine playing only conference games, an approach that some college conferences are doing this fall. According to Rohrer, there would not be a penalty for breaking a contract with another school this season.
“A number of our games in August are not region games, so they are not a requirement to seed us for regions and state,” she said. “I think price is going to be a huge factor in all of that — that is not affordable.”
The school district is behind student activities, but at what cost.
“Being a sports person that I am — basketball gets us through dark winters as we sit up there in the back and watch all these kids come up — but as a board member, it would be unconscionable to pay that much to take a trip,” school board member Judy Carstens said.
School administrators are creating an intramural program that could coincide with varsity programs, if games don’t take place or travel is limited. Superintendent Larry LeDoux said he expects ASAA to cancel some activities that involve a lot of physical contact.
“If we can’t travel, we are going to have to really channel back to the old Joe Floyd days, where we dove into an intramural program, and that will take as much work as a varsity program,” he said.