Sailors chart course for athletics

Like athletics programs throughout Oregon, the Mapleton School District awaits an upcoming OSAA decision on fall sports

As the state and nation await news on re-openings and approvals allowing a return to fully functioning operations for communities and businesses, Mapleton’s athletic programs are no different. With a school district comprised of less than 150 students in all, spanning kindergarten through the 12th grade, Mapleton’s school community functions much like a family — with athletics being a key component of what kids do at their school, and who they are.

With half of the students coming in for just two hours a day at this juncture, administration and staff have done their best to maintain community outreach since the outbreak of COVID-19 more than a year ago. 

Principal Brenda Moyer, along with the school counselor and Superintendent Jodi O’Mara, regularly make house call “check-ins” with students in Mapleton, “and not just for exclusively academic reasons,” said Moyer, who explained that it has been important to them to make sure students have access to food and other available community resources.

As Moyer explained, for the vast majority, the isolation and separation have been an immense struggle. And because athletics are closely intertwined with both student lives and how the school functions, it has been challenging.

This past Wednesday (Feb. 3), the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) held a meeting that was attended by over 250 athletic directors, principals and superintendents to address the current state of affairs of school athletics.

As they receive information from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), as well as from various data metrics reported by Lane County, the OSAA has the task of informing schools of the process, planning and scheduling of sports.

As can be expected, information and health guidelines and directives are constantly changing, and at this point Mapleton, like most Oregon schools, is just waiting to see if competitive athletics will actually happen this school year.

“Right now, it’s just a waiting game to find out what we can and can’t do,” said Mapleton Athletic Director Carrie Dean.   

Mapleton was cleared to begin “Season One” — the conditioning season for all sports — at the beginning of this past December. At that point, all sports were allowed to be conditioning student athletes 

following certain safety protocols: students could only practice outdoors with no shared indoor spaces while maintaining a 6-foot distance between athletes at all times, and coaches were paired with student cohorts to track attendance and trace any necessary outbreaks by direct contact.

According to Moyer, as soon as conditioning began with afternoon practices, “our attendance and academics went up. You could sense the classroom academic energy change. So there has definitely been hope that has been built by having the workouts in the afternoon.”

Moyer added that, in the first few weeks of the school year, there was a feeling that a more normal school day would be in the near future.

However, by Thanksgiving, that sense of hope had waned.

When Season One began, the kids were just happy to have activities in the afternoon and it gave them more motivation to show up for the day. 

During Wednesday’s meeting, O’Mara presented a plan to the school board for reopening. Moyer discussed the fact that the topic of student mental health was brought up multiple times during the meeting, with many vocal parties hoping that state level decisions would be made taking this factor into consideration. 

The fall sports season — identified as Season Two of this school year — awaits approval this Monday (Feb. 8). In the meantime, Mapleton’s football and volleyball programs hang in the balance pending the decision by state agencies.

“The waiting has been hardest on the kids, because they want to know and they want to play,” said Dean.

All are hoping a final decision will be made so students and faculty alike can move forward one way or another; administrators are aware that even if Season Two can’t move forward as planned, any interaction and campus time that can be given to students is going to benefit them.

“We are hopeful, but we are also of the mindset that we need to follow science, the guidance from state and the guidance of people who have access to more information than we do,” Moyer said. “[If Season Two is cancelled], we’re going to cross that bridge when it comes to that.”

As of Wednesday’s meeting, middle and high school students are allowed to practice two to three days per week for one hour in the evening.

Mapleton had purchased an outdoor net so the volleyball team had access to practice when the requirement was strictly outdoors. How-ever, now students are finally allowed to be in the gym with no more than six athletes at a time and coaches standing a minimum of 25 feet away.

Fortunately, Mapleton has small enough numbers on its volleyball team that cleaning between cohorts is manageable.

When it comes to a scheduled sports season, Mapleton, a member of the Mountain West League, faces the the challenge that league designations by school size may be out the win-dow.

Schools may be asked to compete against teams closer in proximity rather than the schools closer in size that they would normally be paired with in league play. That’s because it would be safer and more efficient to schedule a handful of events within the proposed shortened six-week seasons — with less travel across league boundaries.

Part of the challenge is determining which schools will compete against each other. But there is also the issue of determining what will be allowed in the first place; will football be allowed at all? If so, what type — if any — contact will be permitted?

A great deal hinges not only on what can be played, but also how, where, when and against who.

Whatever the decision this Monday, administrators are clearly aware of the effects a lack of athletic programs is having on Mapleton students — and the importance of having these programs as an outlet.

“When you think about social development and learning and becoming a successful adult, the skills that you learn on the court, football field and the track — how to collaborate, cooperate, get along, put each other’s differences aside, be a good team player — those skills follow our kids throughout their lives,” Moyer said. “Very few adults at 40 are still choosing to be part of a football club, but the skills that they learned… those are skills that definitely are beneficial for a lifetime.

“We’re missing a lot in academics right now with the world the way it is, but we’re also miss-ing a lot of social opportunities, and I think that that is one of the concerns with athletics [having been] missing.”