Central peninsula sport programs start back up

Sports jumped back into action Monday at the central peninsula’s schools, while an announcement about those same schools returning to on-site learning would be coming in the next few days, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s director of communications said Monday.

“We’re so excited to have sports happening,” Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications, community and government relations for the district, said. “Thank you to everybody for doing their part to keep risk levels down.

“It’s going to take all of us to keep schools and businesses open and keep everybody healthy.”

The school district uses the number of positive cases in the last 14 days to determine risk levels for distinct geographic regions on the Kenai Peninsula.

On Aug. 18, the central peninsula had 14 positive cases for 27 cases in three days. The spike in cases put the central peninsula at high-risk level.

That same day, John O’Brien, superintendent, announced central peninsula schools would be closed to on-site learning until Sept. 8 at the earliest. Sports also were put at high-risk level, meaning no competitions were allowed and practices were limited to outdoor conditioning sessions during which athletes had to maintain 10 feet of distance at all times.

After O’Brien’s announcement, cases started dropping. The past seven days have seen seven positive cases on the central peninsula. The area went to medium-risk level Sunday.

Erkeneff said central peninsula schools didn’t open to on-site learning Monday because it is very tough to open school with a notice of a day or a few days.

“When the initial decision was made, we heard from parents and staff, ‘Please offer us some kind of continuity so we can make plans for where our child is going to be every day,’” Erkeneff said.

Erkeneff said O’Brien will continue checking the data and meeting with the COVID-19 Risk Level Advisory Group. She said the superintendent would have an announcement regarding the opening of central peninsula schools to on-site learning no later than Wednesday.

The advisory group is made up of O’Brien, Erkeneff, the two district superintendents, the district’s nursing supervisor, a physician from each of the peninsula’s three hospitals, and a representative from the borough’s Office of Emergency Management.

Erkeneff said O’Brien checked with the advisory team before letting sports go from high-risk level to medium-risk level Monday.

The move allows central peninsula schools to hold competitions. It also allows practices to go from no contact and no shared equipment to limited contact and limited sharing of equipment. In other words, football players can now use footballs and volleyball players can now use volleyballs.

Swimming also will start practice at Kenai and Soldotna on Wednesday.

“Sports and activities are a huge part of our kids’ lives. it’s all part of the educational experience,” Erkeneff said. “Being healthy right now is the best thing we can do.”

While starting up sports competitions involves far less operationally than opening schools to on-site learning, Kenai Peninsula athletic directors did have a hectic day Monday filling in competitions for the week.

As of late Monday afternoon, Homer was scheduled to play football at Soldotna, with junior varsity at 11 a.m. and varsity at 2 p.m. As has become custom around the state with each game at risk, SoHi is making this first game senior night.

For cross-country, all schools in the district are invited to the Nikiski Class Races, which will start at 3 p.m. Friday.

For volleyball, Kenai will play at Nikiski on Thursday at 3:30 for C team, 4:40 for JV and 6 p.m. for varsity. Friday, Nikiski will travel to Soldotna for 3:30, 4:30 and 6 p.m. contests.

Homer and Seward have already been competing because those schools are at low-risk level. The Seahawks travel to Homer for volleyball Friday at 4, 5 and 6 p.m.

The competitions come with mitigation plans, with the protocol set by the Alaska School Activities Association.

Central peninsula events will be held at medium-risk level, meaning social distancing between nonhousehold groups must be observed and masks for spectators are required. There also will be limitations on the number of spectators allowed at events where seating is limited.

Spectators going to the indoor events will have a temperature check and be asked COVID-19 screening questions.

Erkeneff said the districtis working with KSRM to broadcast the games so fans in high-risk groups will be able to follow them. Dylan Hooper, Nikiski athletic director, said the Thursday volleyball match will be streamed on the Nikiski Middle-High School Facebook page.

Erkeneff said cooperation of the public is needed for events to keep being held.

“We go back to, it’s easy to open schools and hold events, but it’s a harder thing to keep schools open and keep events happening,” she said. “Everybody can come to the event and cheer on their favorite student or team, and wear masks and keep a safe physical distance.

“Keep safe on the Kenai. We don’t want to have spread and go back to high risk.”

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion                                 Kenai Central football coach Travis Akana coaches blocking technique as Jackson DuPerron looks on during practice Monday, Aug. 31, at Ed Hollier Field at Kenai Central High School in Kenai.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Kenai Central football coach Travis Akana coaches blocking technique as Jackson DuPerron looks on during practice Monday, Aug. 31, at Ed Hollier Field at Kenai Central High School in Kenai.