Sports aren’t normal this year, but they’re happening

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

After a hiatus of some 16 months, Lebanon’s football, soccer, volleyball and cross-country teams are all competing.
Up the road at East Linn Christian Academy, it’s the same.
“They’re going. Kids are playing. That’s all that matters,” said Lebanon High School Athletic Director Kraig Hoene. “Kids are out there, being active. It’s amazing. They have smiles on their faces. They’re getting to hang out with their friends. And it’s doing them a world of good, I think.”
That doesn’t mean everything is back to normal on the fields or the courts. Everyone present is required to be masked and there are strict limits on how many people can be in a facility at a time.
Due to the fact that Linn County is currently at “moderate” risk level, Hoene said, he can allow more parents in to see their kids play – particularly seniors.
“Even the Friday night football game,” he said, noting that he has been able to put parents of younger athletes to work in various game-management roles, to let them get a look at their kids in action.
Fact is, they’re playing.
The Warriors opened their abbreviated six-game football season with a 21-20 loss to Sprague at home Friday, March 5. They hosted Dallas on March 12, after Lebanon Local went to press, before heading out on the road to face North Albany and South Albany over the next two weeks.
“As the coaches get some reps under them, the kids will be doing some things differently,:” Hoene said. “When we get them on the field, the goal is to get better.”
The Sprague game was “pretty competitive,” but due to practice restrictions due to COVID and then a week’s shutdown by the ice storm in Salem, the teams agreed to modify the game format, with a running clock in the second half.
“It was not a full game, but it was enough to get the kids on the field, and knock each other around for a change, get some film for the coaches so they can get better,” Hoene said.
Volleyball opened at LHS March 9 with a 25-5, 25-5, 25-14 loss on the road to a “very talented” South Salem team, Hoene said. Lebanon visited Central March 11, losing 25-14, 25-15, 25-20. The Warriors’ first home appearance is Monday, March 15, against McNary.
ELCA opened its volleybal season with two losses, 25-16, 25-19, 25-13 on March 2 at Central Linn, then 17-25, 22-25, 25-18, 25-14, 10-15 to Jefferson at home. Playing March 11 at Oakridge, the Eagles lost 25-10, 25-18, 25-21. They travel to the Central Christian tournament on Saturday, March 13.
The Warriors opened their boys soccer season with two losses, 0-1 to Crescent Valley and 6-0 at Silverton, followed by a 0-0 tie with Dallas on March 9. The score for their March 11 game against and Corvallis, also at home, was not avaialable as Lebanon Local went to press. They face both Albany schools over the next two weeks.
East Linn has 21 kids out for its boys team, which includes four girls since the Eagles don’t field a girls team, Athletic Kellen Peters said.
Under new coach Tyler Grove, the Eagles are 1-2-1 after losses to Western Christian (0-4) and Taft (5-1), a 6-0 win over La Pine on March 6 and a 2-2 tie with Crosshill Christian.
The Warrior girls lost their first two soccer games, 8-0 on March 2 to two-time defending state champion Crescent Valley and 3-0 to Silverton, both at home.
The Warriors picked things up on the road with a 7-4 win at Central on Tuesday, March 9, in which sophomore Allie Miller scored five goals.
They lost 7-0 Thursday, March 11, to Corvallis. They face both Albany schools over the next two weeks.
Lebanon’s cross-country runners competed in a dual meet at Central . The Warriors will keep things small this year, Hoene said, with two dual meets planned at Waterloo Park.
“In our league, we’re staying with duals in cross-country,” Hoene said. “Some schools are just hosting 3Ks on their track, based on their site.”
Peters, who coaches cross-country at ELCA, said smaller schools are opting for bigger meets, and with relaxation of state restrictions for outdoor events earlier this week, organizing those is easier.
But the Eagles, who are usually a force to be reckoned with in 2A Division cross-country, have only two boys and three girls at present, which means they can’t compete for a team title.
Things are still changing, with the COVID numbers in flux, Hoene said, noting that more directives may be coming from the state and OSAA following announcements expected on March 17 regarding further changes in schools, which likely could also affect athletics.
Plus, Benton County moved from “extreme” to “high” risk on Friday, March 12, which will allow its schools to host volleyball games, which have been off-limits due to assembly restrictions under state COVID rules.
Meanwhile, schools are all doing things “their own way,” Hoene said, noting that he and other athletic directors are simply trying to keep the numbers right on the sidelines and in the stands.
“I’m trying to be creative, to let parents see at least one game this season – once or twice, depending on the nature of their sport.”
Then he has to figure out how many people will be in Lebanon’s party when teams travel, and inform the host site of those numbers, since schools have to tally the number of athletes, coaches, officials, managers, scorers – and parents.
Peters has had to be creative as well, opting to host a state cross-country championship meet for the 3A/2A/1A divisions on April 10 at Cheadle Lake (see accompanying story).
“It’s required quite a bit of communication, conversation,” Hoene said, adding that he’s had “a lot” of sleepless moments, contemplating the details.