The persistence of wildfire smoke from the Swan Lake Fire hanging in the air and the unpredictable travel situation through Cooper Landing has made for another weekend of uncertainty for peninsula sports programs.
After a weekend that saw most high school events on the peninsula cancelled, including four of five varsity football games, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will determine whether to keep the travel restriction on local teams after additional meetings are held Thursday, according to KPBSD Director of Communications Pegge Erkeneff.
Meanwhile, schools have already taken matters into their own hands by shuffling the schedule for week 3 of the football season.
Instead of hosting its home opener Friday night against South Anchorage, the Soldotna Stars will now be flying up to Anchorage for a Saturday game against the Wolverines. SoHi head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said game time has not been determined yet, but guaranteed that the Stars will be playing a week 3 game against top-ranked Div. I team South. One week ago, SoHi’s plans to make the trip to Fairbanks for a game against West Valley fell through, leaving a hole in the schedule.
“It’s almost a relief a decision’s been made,” Brantley Jr. said. “I feel like we’ve gone through every scenario over and over again.”
Kenai Central is still a go to host the Lathrop Malamutes for its home opener Saturday at 1 p.m., but since Lathrop is supposed to be driving down from Fairbanks for the game, Kardinals head coach Dustin Akana is uncertain if their opponents will make it.
“I see and hear the reports. It’s not looking too great,” Akana said. “But we’re trying to remain positive and do what we can.”
The biggest shuffle of all rearranged the Div. III schedule. Nikiski was slated to host Valdez for a Friday night contest, and Homer was scheduled to travel to Fairbanks to play Monroe Catholic Friday, but now both peninsula teams will instead face each other for a Friday night nonconference showdown.
Monroe Catholic set things in motion Wednesday by backing out of its scheduled home game against Homer, opting instead to a nonconference game with Valdez. That change forced the change for the two peninsula schools.
Nikiski will now host Homer Friday night at 7 p.m. The two teams are also still scheduled to play in week 7, meaning that Homer and Nikiski will play twice this year. Friday’s game will not count in the conference standings while their Sept. 28 contest will.
Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson said the schedule changes combined with the slew of indoor practices due to unhealthy air quality has made for a difficult start to the prep season.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle,” Nelson said. “It’s hard, it just doesn’t feel like football practice. The kids are upset the schedule’s been altered.
“I’m really glad the schedule worked out, but it’s been a rough week … but you do what you can?”
In the last 10 days, the Swan Lake Fire has eaten up an additional 58,000 acres after flaring up due to continued drought and high winds on the peninsula. With the communities of Sterling and Cooper Landing keeping a close watch on potential evacuation calls and pilot car operations ensnaring highway traffic, high school sports teams have been dissuaded from traveling down for events.
The KPBSD called for a travel restriction Aug. 21, which barred any and all teams driving through the Cooper Landing corridor and canceled all outdoor sports events on the peninsula.
Last week, Kenai had its home opener with Eielson cancelled, and Akana said if Kenai were to miss a second consecutive home game, the group that would suffer the most is the senior class.
“It’s really taking a toll on the seniors,” he said. “If our game with Lathrop is cancelled, that’s two home games right there that our seniors won’t be able to play. I just feel bad for the seniors, this is their season and the fire is kind of killing it.”
Seward, which was able to make the trip to Valdez last Saturday for a football game, is scheduled to go on the road to play Redington in the Mat-Su Valley Thursday evening.