All outdoor athletic activities and events at or hosted by Kenai Peninsula Borough School District schools have been canceled until further notice, according to a press release from the district.
That means all five high school varsity football games scheduled for Friday and Saturday will not be held on the peninsula.
The travel restriction also canceled the annual Tsalteshi Invitational cross-country meet, which was to be hosted Saturday on the Tsalteshi Trails behind Skyview Middle School.
Outside of high school sports, the Lost Lake Run near Seward has also been canceled due to poor air quality, according to a post on the event’s Facebook page. The 15.5-mile backcountry race takes runners from the Primrose Campground at the south end of Kenai Lake to the Bear Creek Fire Station near Seward. The event annually draws in hundreds of race applicants, with last year’s race bringing 665 runners.
The Lost Lake Run is a fundraiser for Cystic Fibrosis, a disease which affects the lungs, and organizers of the race noted that “it would be counter to our mission to place mountain race participants into an environment that could negatively impact their lung health.”
The recent flare-up of the Swan Lake Fire over the weekend has pushed flames to the edge of the Sterling Highway between the communities of Sterling and Cooper Landing, necessitating the travel ban through that area for sports programs, said KPBSD Director of Communications Pegge Erkeneff.
“This decision places a priority on the safety, health and well-being of our athletes, coaches, families and hundreds of students and their families from across the state who planned to travel to compete in sporting events on the Kenai Peninsula,” said Superintendent John O’Brien in the press release. “We thank all the emergency responders, firefighters and agencies who are working together in adverse conditions to keep everyone safe.”
With air quality rising to dangerous levels due to the smoke, the decision came to cancel all peninsula events. Erkeneff said that includes sports team practices held outdoors as well. Indoor practices and events would not be affected.
“This is a dynamic situation,” Erkeneff said. “We’re working with emergency management and various agencies that look at the weather and air quality.”
Indoor activities like the Homer Jamboree volleyball meet could still take place, although the Seward program would be unable to attend as it would require travel through the Cooper Landing corridor. The Kenai Central and Nikiski programs would still be able to attend.
Also, the Seward cross-country team could still travel to compete at the ACS Quad meet Friday at Bartlett High School in Anchorage, since the route to Anchorage does not include the area around Cooper Landing, but Seward head coach Shelly Walker said that event would be dependent on air quality levels. The Seward swim and dive team are also scheduled to compete Saturday at the Colony Invite.
While football games on the peninsula are canceled, the possibility of moving venues remains. Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said that the Stars program is exploring the possibility of flying the team up to Fairbanks to play their Friday night contest against West Valley, but several requirements would need to be met to do that. Brantley Jr. said that includes getting the approval of O’Brien, as well as figuring out flight plans, which have become busy in recent days with the multiple highway closures.
“You can only control the things you can control,” Brantley Jr. said. “Wildfires across the state are something completely out of our control. Plus we’re a little banged up after playing West (in Week 1), so it’s probably not a horrible thing.”
The cancelation of the weekend’s football games means local teams will have seven regular-season games this fall instead of the usual eight.
Kenai Central was the only local program scheduled for a home game, with a Saturday game against Division III Eielson at Ed Hollier Field.
The Homer Mariners were scheduled to play on the road at Redington High School in the Matanuska-Susitna valleys, and the Nikiski Bulldogs were scheduled to travel to Fairbanks to play the Monroe Catholic Rams on Saturday.
Kenai head coach Dustin Akana took the optimistic approach, saying the Kardinals will begin getting ready for their Week 3 opponent Lathrop.
“It is what it is, it’s out of our hands,” Akana said. “We’ll probably start preparing for Lathrop.”
Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson said the biggest obstacle presented by sports cancelations is working with a fluid schedule that could change by the hour.
“It’s definitely tough,” he said. “We were primed, we had a good week of practice and were ready for a competitive game. When that gets taken away toward the end of the week, the kids miss the experience, we miss getting better. It’s hard to stay focused for two weeks of practice.”