Griffen Hubbard (right) tries to beat his defender while going out for a pass in McNary’s first official practice since 2019 (Matt Rawlings/KEIZERTIMES).
After Salem-Keizer Public Schools (SKPS) officially submitted and met requirements for opting-in to allow outdoor contact sports, the McNary High School football team held their first official practice in more than a year on Monday, Feb. 22.
Though their first game is scheduled for Friday, March 5, there is still some uncertainty as to whether the Celtics season will start on that exact day. However, while the situation is still fluid, McNary athletic director Scott Gragg said definitively that there will be a football season in Salem-Keizer this spring.
“I am confident in saying this: We will play football this year. It might be six games, it might be five games, it might be four games and a jamboree, but we will play,” Gragg said. “It’s going to look different, especially without any spectators in the stands, but we are super appreciative that we are able to be able to offer our kids the ability to play.”
Despite Marion County being moved down to a ‘High’ risk COVID-19 area, rather than ‘Extreme’ risk, the district has to follow a strict set of requirements in order to play. Those requirements include; offering, at a minimum, Comprehensive Distance Learning with Limited In-Person Instruction (LIPI), compliance with the Oregon School Testing Plan, limiting field capacity to 120 people maximum, prohibiting spectators, offer on-site responsive testing for symptomatic individuals, collecting contact information for contact tracing and collecting a waiver from each participant.
Players and coaches are also required to wear masks during practices and games.
Offering on-site testing has been one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for other districts in the state, which is why Gragg is grateful that SKPS has already gotten to this point.
“I’m happy with our district because it feels like we are ahead of the average, compared to the rest of the state,” Gragg said.
Teams are required to host nine practices before they can participate in competition. McNary is scheduled to host West Albany for the first game of the season, then play Salem-area teams in the remaining five weeks (McKay, Sprague, West Salem, North Salem, South Salem). However, the week one contest will likely be more of a jamboree style according to Gragg.
“Even if we get our nine practices in, it’s likely that those games will look more like a jamboree, or a controlled scrimmage, than they will look like an actual contest,” Gragg said. “Our sub-varsity might also have some modifications, just so that kids are safe and they are able to participate in football.”
Salem-Keizer freshman squads will play on Friday nights before the school’s varsity contest and junior varsity teams are planning to play on Saturday afternoons.
Since fans will not be allowed in the stands, McNary is currently in the process of installing cameras at their athletic facilities so that games can be streamed on NFHSnetwork.com
According to Gragg, the main priority for schools is to provide the opportunity to play, even though there will not be a postseason. However, his main hope is that the spring football season will be a trial run to help the district, and the state, prepare for the Fall 2021 season.
“We’re not going for league championships or city championships, it’s all about participation,” Gragg said. “We want to honor our seniors, but looking ahead, it’s about preparing for next Fall.”
Each SKPS high school has their schedules available on OSAA.com. However, Gragg anticipates that each team’s schedule will be fluid due to changes in COVID-19 numbers and whether or not schools can field a team from week to week, which is why the Mountain Valley Conference (MVC) scheduling committee will meet every week during the season.
“In football, you are limited because of days in between contests. It will be a busy five weeks for sure,” Gragg said. “I have learned this season for sure to hold my cards loosely. There might be a lot of changes as we move through the season.”