Fall sports playoffs, state championships canceled

ASAA wants schools to stay in geographic regions

The Alaska School Activities Association announced Tuesday that all state championship and state playoff events for the fall have been canceled due to rising COVID-19 cases in the state.

According to an ASAA press release, the decision affects football, swimming and diving, gymnastics, rifle, music, Esports, volleyball and Drama, Debate and Forensics.

Regional competitions will be allowed to continue, according to ASAA.

All Kenai Peninsula football teams are in Division II and III. Ewart said football teams in Division II and III can play in their geographic region until Oct. 24. Soldotna, in Division II, and Homer, in Division III, were still alive in the playoffs, but their playoffs are now canceled. Homer was scheduled to play in a semi-final playoff game at Redington Jr./Sr. High School on Oct. 19.

ASAA also says peninsula teams can still compete against other peninsula teams in volleyball and swimming until Nov. 22.

Pegge Erkeneff, director of communications, community and government relations for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, said the district learned of the ASAA decision late Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, 14 COVID-19 cases were reported by the state on the central peninsula, pushing the area to 59 cases in the last 14 days and into the high-risk level. That pushed the district to announce that central peninsula schools will shift to 100% remote learning, except for select groups, starting today.

A Tuesday volleyball match between Soldotna and host Nikiski was canceled. The match was Nikiski’s senior night.

Erkeneff said ASAA will be in touch with district administration and principals Wednesday. The district will use that information, along with COVID-19 risk levels, to determine the status of competitions and practices going forward.

With the shift to remote learning making the day tough, Erkeneff said the ASAA announcement only made the day more difficult.

“It’s a hard day for everyone,” she said. “We went through this in spring and it was hard. Students and teams have practiced and worked together to make it this far into the season, then to have this happen now is really disappointing.”

Dale Ewart, is activities director at Palmer High School and vice president and president-elect of the ASAA board. He said that, “unless some miracle happened,” the start of winter sports, including hockey, cross-country skiing, wrestling and basketball, will be postponed until at least January.

The decision came after the eight-member ASAA board held a Tuesday Zoom meeting, according to Ewart. Ewart represents Region III, which includes the peninsula and Matanuska-Susitna valleys, on the board.

At the meeting, the board received input from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the Anchorage Health Department, Alaska Department of Education and Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer.

Ewart said the group expressed concern about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state. Alaska has had 20 straight days of triple-digit COVID case counts, including record highs over the weekend.

According to Ewart, Zink said the rising case counts mean it is a bad time to encourage groups to travel outside of their geographic region.

Ewart also said there was concern about what holiday travel could do to case counts. That is why all activities must be done by Thanksgiving and why activities likely will not start again until January.

The board is scheduled to meet again Nov. 9 and Ewart said the board will work on putting together a new activities calendar at that time.

Ewart, a former coach himself, said the decision to cancel fall state events and postpone winter activities was tough. The vote of the board was unanimous, though.

“I told my coaches, ‘I know as a coach you hate it and as a coach I don’t like it either,’” Ewart said. “But based on the information we have and what we know, we made the right decision.”

Last weekend, ASAA had staged cross-country and tennis championships, the first state events since the pandemic hit the state in March.

Reach Jeff Helminiak at jhelminiak@peninsulaclarion.com.