After a tumultuous Tuesday, Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration and staff got together Wednesday to determine the new landscape for activities and athletics on the Kenai Peninsula.
Tuesday, the central peninsula went to high-risk status, pushing all central peninsula students, except for select groups, to 100% remote learning. Eastern peninsula schools had already been at high risk, while southern peninsula schools remain at medium risk.
Also Tuesday, the Alaska School Activities Association announced the cancellation of all fall state events and playoffs. ASAA also wiped the calendar for the rest of the school year clean, with the ASAA Board of Directors set to meet Nov. 9 to consider a new calendar.
Kyle McFall, activities director at Soldotna High School, said Tuesday was a tough day that left some questions.
“Within an hour and a half, we learned we were going to remote learning and then we had to tell some students their seasons were done or they wouldn’t have state,” McFall said. “It was really rough on the kids.”
After getting clarifications from ASAA and the school district, activities directors have a better idea of what their seasons look like.
Peninsula football teams are all in Division II and III, which means ASAA allows them to play up until Oct. 24.
The Kenai Central, Seward and Nikiski football teams had concluded their seasons before Tuesday.
Homer, in Division III, and Soldotna, in Division II, were still alive in the playoffs.
With the playoffs canceled, McFall and Homer activities director Chris Perk said they could schedule peninsula games if they wanted to. Neither anticipated that happening.
The Stars and head coach Galen Brantley Jr. will have to wait to pursue a ninth straight Division II state title until next season.
“Talking to Galen and his coaching staff, it hit everybody pretty hard,” McFall said. “It was hard to explain to the players, especially the seniors. From everything I heard and saw on social media, the coaches did a great job making sure they were there for the kids.
“It was a tough year.”
Perk said the Homer football team is in quarantine until Monday, anyway. He said rules have changed quickly at times this season, but even so he had a had time imagining the team playing another game.
The central and eastern peninsula schools can still practice at high-risk levels, as long as a mitigation plan guided by ASAA protocols has been approved. Homer is still at medium risk and practicing daily.
The problem for the Mariners is the district does not allow high-risk schools to play regular season games.
“We’re just waiting for someone to come out of the red so we can play at this point,” Perk said.
McFall, Perk, Nikiski athletic director Dylan Hooper and Seward athletic director Al Plan said schedules will be reworked as soon as areas are able to get back to medium- or low-risk levels. ASAA said the volleyball season must be done prior to Nov. 22.
The activity and athletic directors also are hopeful there will be a season-culminating event among peninsula teams even if some schools remain at high-risk levels.
Hooper said such an event would give student-athletes a good experience, but couldn’t replace the state experience.
“This is really devastating for the Kenai volleyball program,” Hooper said of the Kards, who have yet to lose a match playing against all peninsula competition. “They’ve got a strong group of seniors playing great volleyball. This was their chance to win a state title.
“This isn’t perfect for any of our kids, but they are the program I feel most for because of their strength.”
The situation for swimming is similar to volleyball. All teams can currently practice, but only Homer can compete. The swimming season must be completed by Nov. 22.
McFall said the intent is to also give the swimmers a season-culminating event, which could happen even if schools remain at high risk. He said such an event is in the early planning stages, but could involve all the peninsula swim teams at one venue. Times could be compared to a similar meet in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys to determine a region champion.
Perk also said he’d heard talk of USA Swimming putting on some type of statewide event for club swimmers in late November.
Perk said Seward and Homer held a Drama, Debate and Forensics meet via Zoom recently. Hooper said Nikiski’s DDF team was just ramping up but he’s not sure what will happen now that ASAA canceled the state event.
Zoom makes it possible for peninsula teams to compete in DDF with teams off of the peninsula, but Perk, Plan and Hooper were not sure of the next step for DDF teams. ASAA says the season must be completed by Nov. 22.
Rest of the calendar
Look at ASAA’s website at the Calendar of Events, and all winter activities, spring activities and academic/fine arts activities are marked as to be determined.
Peninsula athletic and activity directors said they are waiting for ASAA to fill in the calendar. Hooper also said he is waiting for district leadership to see where middle school sports go from here.
“I do think it’s important to get kids moving around and engaged,” he said. “If it can’t look like normal, I hope it at least looks like something.”
Perk, McFall and Hooper said they expect the new seasons to be compressed. Perk said this could provide a challenge for peninsula schools.
“At a school the size of Homer, I feel we can have a good mitigation plan for one sport a day,” Perk said. “If you stack wrestling, skiing, basketball and hockey all into one or two months, it could become really difficult to do all that safely every weekend.”
Perk said the school will do what it has to so students can remain active. He’s also glad Homer students are still able to attend school.
“It’s critical,” he said. “We all know what the fourth quarter was like. It was tough on everyone. We’d like to avoid it, but there’s not a lot we can do to control the numbers other than being safe ourselves.”