Saturday at Kenai Central High School, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School district will host its first sporting event since the global coronavirus pandemic shut down schools and activities last spring.
Jesse Settlemyer, the athletic director at Kenai Central, said the football jamboree will look different for both players and spectators due to policies the school district and Alaska School Activities Association have put into place to lessen the spread of the new coronavirus.
The jamboree will include central peninsula schools Kenai Central, Soldotna and Nikiski, plus Homer from the southern peninsula.
Seward, from the eastern peninsula, just started practice Monday, according to Seward athletic director Al Plan. That’s why the Seahawks will not be at the jamboree.
The other peninsula schools began football practice July 29, but Seward was at a high-risk level at that time. The school district uses the number of COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days to determine the risk level for the eastern, southern and central portions of the peninsula.
Seward moved to the medium-risk level over the weekend. According to ASAA, schools at the high-risk level are only allowed to do outdoor conditioning during which participants must stay 10 feet apart. Schools at high-risk level also can’t have sports competitions.
The central peninsula has been at medium risk since July 29, meaning practice and competitions are allowed as long as mitigation measures are in place. Dustin Akana, Kenai Central football coach, said this has meant the team has had to follow rules at practice regarding things like cloth masks, social distancing and contact.
He said his team has been doing a great job following the rules with an eye on Saturday and the season beyond.
“They’re really looking forward to it,” Akana said. “They all want sports. They all want to play. We gave them a lecture that they all have to follow these guidelines and mitigation plans to a T if they want to have a season.
“They’re all ecstatic, period, that we still get to have a football season, starting with a jamboree.”
Akana, who has coached at Kenai for five years and has been the head coach for three years, said the rules regarding contact have not affected his team that much. He said the Kardinals never go full contact in practice this time of year.
“Because we don’t have a high number of players coming out to play, we can’t risk hurting any of those players before the games begin,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been here, we’ve focused on the basic fundamentals using things like bags and hand shields.”
When running plays in practice, Akana said players are just going to thud — or squaring up and getting in position to make a tackle, but not carrying through with the tackle. He added this is no different from any other jamboree, where coaches wonder how what they’ve taught will look against an opposing team.
Each team plays three games, getting to run 10 offensive plays per game.
“Are players ready to go full contact and are they ready to hit other people, as far as being successful at offense and defense?” Akana said. “I don’t know. We’ve just been going against our own team and going to thud.
“How they use the techniques and fundamentals for tackling, and how they execute the plays we practice every day, we’ll see.”
Settlemyer said teams will arrive at 10 a.m. and go through a screening process if they don’t arrive on a bus. Teams arriving on a bus will have gone through a screening process before they arrive. Games start at 11 a.m.
Settlemyer said the district has a new policy that central peninsula student-athletes within a 30-mile radius of an event don’t have to take a bus to that event.
During the game, the team box will extend to the 10-yard line. Settlemyer said this allows for more social distancing between coaches and players. He said players not actively engaged in the game will be required to maintain 6 feet of distance from other players. Coaches also will have to maintain 6 feet of distance.
Settlemyer added coaches will wear masks, while players not actively engaged in the game will wear masks. Players coming to the sidelines will have a reasonable amount of time to put on a mask.
Settlemyer said the district and ASAA have policies in place for spectators, who will be able to get into the jamboree for free. There will be no concessions.
“We are really excited to be able to hold athletic events this fall on the Kenai Peninsula,” Settlemyer said. “We do want to communicate that in order to continue holding athletic events we are going to need the participation of the central peninsula community.
“KPBSD and Kenai Central are asking all spectators to socially distance and wear masks while at athletic events this fall.”
Settlemyer said those in the same household do not have to socially distance. For nonhousehold groups, there will be markers throughout the stands at Ed Hollier Field that facilitate social distancing.
Briana Randle, principal at Kenai Central, said she realizes students and the community will be on a steep learning curve when it comes to all the changes brought on by the pandemic. She also said Kenai Central is taking mitigating the risk of spreading the new coronavirus seriously.
When asked how Kenai Central would deal with noncompliance, Randle said the school would deal with that on a case-by-case basis with the goal being a positive, productive conversation. The principal said student-athletes, coaches, administrators and fans are all part of the effort to get sports started again.
“I just want to reiterate this is a team effort,” Randle said. “When teams don’t stick together, the team falls apart. COVID isn’t one of those areas where we want to fall apart.”
Randle said she is very appreciative of all those who spent extra time to make activities possible, especially those at central office.
“Kudos to the central office for their mitigation plans and the time that has gone into them,” Randle said. “They’ve been trying to work through this and they’ve done an excellent job even though I know it’s been overwhelming.”