Fall sports ‘back to normal’ – maybe?

Lebanon athletics are moving forward, but what they are actually going to look like on Sept. 1 is still kind of up in the air, Athletic Director Kraig Hoene said following Gov. Brown’s announcement on Aug. 11 that masks must be worn indoors starting Friday, Aug. 13.
“We’re back to normal, but that’s kind of a loaded statement,” Hoene said. “We’re still looking for guidance from OSAA for kids on the competition floor. We’re hoping people on the floor, at least the kids who are competing, don’t have to wear them.”
At press time for Lebanon Local, compared to last school year’s truncated seasons, this year’s schedule looked fairly normal, with standard non-league competition for football, volleyball and soccer teams, and full-fledged meets for cross-country, as well as full Mid-Willamette Conference schedules.
Under new Head Coach Troy Walker, the Warriors open their football season Sept. 3 at Wilsonville, and follow that up with a game at home vs. South Salem before launching into their MWC schedule Sept. 17 at Central.
As Lebanon held its annual football camp Aug. 9-12, the turnout was “good,” Hoene said, noting that about 90 boys have registered for football thus far, and he expects another 10 or 15 freshmen when registration actually takes place.
“In football, our numbers looking good but other teams’ are not,” he said of other conference schools. “Most are down to two teams. It’s a little disappointing, but it is what it is. It’s not a new trend. It was trending that way before the pandemic.”
The volleyball team, which also has good numbers, will start its official practice schedule in the small gym as earthquake retrofits to the big gym are finalized, hopefully by Aug. 28, Hoene said. The Warriors will open at the Southridge Tournament that day. Their first home match will be Sept. 14 against Silverton.
Boys soccer opens Aug. 27 at home against 4A Division La Grande, then will host North Eugene on Aug. 31.
Girls soccer, which has had good turnout as well, Hoene said, will also host La Grande on Aug. 27, then will play at North Eugene on Aug. 31.
Cross-country opens Sept. 11 at the Ash Creek XC Festival at Western Oregon.
“As far as outdoors, we’re definitely getting back to normal,” Hoene said. “Right now, no masks are required and there’s no limit on capacity. But it could change in five minutes. We all know that.”
He said he won’t be surprised if masks are required for spectators, but he’s hoping athletes will not have to wear them while competing indoors.
One challenge this year has been finding officials.
According to the OSAA, the number of officials registered in Oregon last year was 2,552, a 26.4% decline from the previous year. That’s a 42.1% drop from 2010-11, when the state had 4,412 officials, according to Jerry Ulmer of OSAAtoday.
He said the lack of participation was due to a number of causes: health concerns, scheduling conflicts created by the pandemic, and some multi-sport officials deciding to focus on a single sport, in part due to seasonal overlaps.
“Over the past 10 years, official numbers have been going down,” said Rob Younger, executive director of the Oregon Coaches Association and a former local coach and official himself. “The age of officials, as a whole, has been going up. We’re not getting young officials.”
He said he encourages coaches to talk with players and alumni, particularly those who aren’t moving on to compete in college, about staying in the game by serving as officials.
“That’s something that’s really, really important,” Younger said. “Like a good friend of mine says, ‘High school athletics without officials is just recess.’”
According to Younger, last season’s football games were moved from Friday night to Saturday, or earlier on Friday, due to the scarcity.
“A lot of times officials would work five to seven contests a week,” he said of the 2020-21 season.
Hoene said officials are still being scheduled and he hasn’t had any games yet, so he’s not sure what to expect.
“Once we figure everything out, we’re probably going to have some issues, maybe some schedule changes because of that,” he said. “The pandemic just made it more difficult. It’s an evolving situation we’ll just have to deal with.”