Middle and high school sport programs started back up this week as the Kenai Peninsula School District allowed a resumption of onsite education starting Monday.
At Homer Middle School, practice for Nordic skiing and volleyball started on Monday. At Homer High School, cross-country ski practice had already been taking place, having been approved to start in late December, said Athletic Director Chris Perk. This Monday, practice was able to start for basketball, cheerleading and hockey as well.
The wrestling season has been pushed back to this spring.
While Perk said Homer High is still working through its own plans for how to handle actual sporting events, the plans and mitigation measures for practices have been formed. Student athletes will still be required to complete regular health screenings and temperature checks.
Additionally, face coverings must be worn by the students both during practice and during actual games or competitions. Perk said including this mitigation measure will help eliminate the chance of COVID-19 spreading during practices.
“We don’t have the option to put our teams in a bubble like a professional team,” Perk said.
Once players go home or out in the community, they can be exposed and there’s not much the school can do to prevent that.
“What we’re doing inside our four walls is as good as we can get,” Perk said.
Homer Middle School Principal Kari Dendurent has been involved in district-level planning for school and activities operations since the district formed its Smart Start plan before the start of this school year. She said the face covering policy will look the same across KPBSD schools, and will be the same for both indoor and outdoor sports.
The idea of student athletes wearing face coverings while playing their sport has not been popular across the board.
“Our focus right now is, we want our students to play sports … however we want make sure we keep them safe,” Dendurent said.
Dendurent did point out that Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Anne Zink, has spoken about wearing face coverings even during outdoor athletic activities and how it can be an important mitigator of virus spread.
Policies for elementary-level sport activities have not been addressed yet by the district planning team, Dendurent said.
Spectating will also be limited at sporting events going forward. The maximum number of spectators the district is going to allow per athlete is two. Perk said it hasn’t been decided yet whether that maximum number will be allowed at Homer High — he’s still working on the school’s plans for sport events.
There are other factors to figure out, too, like where to put the cheerleaders to ensure they are far enough away from both spectators and the teams. Perk said the school is also trying to work out how to lower the chances that an entire team will be affected if one player or coach contracts COVID-19.
This could be accomplished through creating pods of players grouped together within each sport. That way, if a student contracted the virus, only their pod would be suspended, as opposed to the entire program, as happened to the football team this past fall when two coaches tested positive. Integrating the use of pods isn’t easy, though. Perk said the teams are still working out how to integrate that concept into practices in terms of being able to successfully run drills and other activities.
For this winter season, KPBSD sport teams will only play other teams from the peninsula. Without the possibility of playing teams from the Mat-Su Valley, Anchorage and beyond, the season will certainly look different. What constitutes success will look a little different this year.
“I think starting and finishing a sport is probably our main goal, and then keeping everybody safe,” Perk said. “Not having any spread within a sport team. So starting and finishing it safely would definitely be our goal.”
Secondary to that, Perk said a big goal is to get students experiencing physical activities through the school again, in part to help build their self esteem.
“You know, we’re all Zoomed out,” he said.
It’s nice for students to have something to look forward to that’s not in front of a computer, Perk said.
He said he’s confident that the school itself, and its activities, have a low chance of contributing to spread of COVID-19. The school’s mitigation measures are more strict that what people are adhering to out in the community, he said.
The key to moving forward through this winter sports season will be flexibility, Perk said.
“We’re still in a world of uncertainty,” he said.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.