Kenai Peninsula high school basketball and hockey teams are being allowed to start practice Monday by the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.
“I’m super excited,” Kyle McFall, the athletic director and girls basketball coach at Soldotna High School, said. “I’m a little bit in scramble mode to get sports up and going and also because I’m the coach of girls basketball.”
Hockey practice normally starts in the middle of October, while basketball practice normally starts late in November or early in December.
This year, both of those start times did not happen due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic also wiped out state tournaments for football, swimming and volleyball for peninsula teams, while wrestling has been pushed to the spring. The Kenai Peninsula prep sports scene has not had major competitions since the Kenai Peninsula Swimming Championships on Nov. 14.
Over the holiday break, though, COVID-19 cases on the Kenai Peninsula went down. That led the school district to announce Tuesday that more students will resume on-site learning Monday. With that announcement came the go-ahead for hockey and basketball to start practice as well. Nordic skiing at the high school level is already practicing.
“I’m really happy they approved sports along with the return to school,” McFall said. “Kids need to be engaged in activities.”
The practices can’t go ahead without coronavirus mitigation plans. McFall had his hockey and basketball plans approved by the district Wednesday.
The hockey plan is three full pages, while the basketball plan is just over five pages.
“We have to be really strict in our adherence to these guidelines,” McFall said. “We witnessed what happens when things get out of control. We didn’t have sports the last couple of months.”
McFall said student-athletes were great about complying with mitigation plans in the fall and he expects that to continue.
When hockey and basketball games start, McFall said it is not yet certain what the policies for spectators will be. McFall did say if spectators are allowed, events would likely look like the Kenai Peninsula Volleyball Championships. At that event, two spectators were allowed per athlete.
Players and coaches also must wear masks at all times. McFall said he is acquiring some superlight masks for his team, but said the face coverings will definitely affect the game. McFall’s plan is to completely change the players on the floor every few minutes to make sure the burden of wearing a mask does not become too much.
Right now, all competitions for peninsula schools are set to happen on the peninsula. The fate of region and state tournaments will be decided later.
“All coaches are scrambling to make sure everything is in place before Monday,” McFall said. “They’re trying to figure out quick fundraisers so they have enough money to get them through the season.”
McFall said student-athletes need to make sure to have all of their online paperwork complete before showing up for practice.
The Alaska School Activities Association also is emphasizing two new policies for student-athletes. The first says student-athletes must notify their school if they are involved in a nonschool program that also is an activity offered by ASAA. The second says student-athletes must notify their school if they have traveled out of state.