It was the one sentence that athletes and coaches did not want to hear from the Oregon School Activities Association this week, but one which did not bring much of a surprise.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, the OSAA, because of the coronavirus outbreak, “has extended the suspension of interscholastic practices and contests for sports and activities for all member schools through April 28.”
The announcement followed Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement Tuesday regarding statewide school closures.
So while it wasn’t unexpected, the decision may have dealt a serious blow to any chance that the spring sports season can be salvaged.
If it is saved, it would be in a much-abbreviated form.
While schools are closed, school ball fields and facilities are closed to all athletes, and coaches cannot conduct any type of organized practices for their teams.
Athletes are allowed to work out on their own, but that’s about it.
Or, as Knappa baseball coach Jeff Miller puts it, “it’s where they all started as little kids,” just throwing the ball around in the backyard.
“Our school grounds are completely shut down,” he said. “I can’t even enter the building. We’ll do whatever we can. Of course, some things are a lot bigger than baseball.”
Miller always fields one of the top baseball teams at the 2A level (four state championship game appearances in the last five years), including his current team, which was ranked third in a pre-season coaches poll.
But he’s also being realistic.
The April 28 date wipes out nearly two-thirds of the season for baseball and softball, while state championships for golf and track are held the third week of May.
And if teams can’t practice until April 28, athletes and team sports would need at least another week before games can begin.
“We’re going to remain guardedly optimistic that there will be some form of league season in May, and perhaps extending into June,” said Warrenton baseball coach Lennie Wolfe, whose team is ranked fourth at the 3A level. “We want to believe, as they do, that better things are coming. We just want to encourage the players and families to stay safe and act wisely. We have to have hope.
“We’re operating under the belief that there will be a season, and we’ll continue to operate that way until we’re told that there isn’t.”
Somehow, “if things are better at that time, maybe we could play a district tournament just for fun and get some games in,” Miller said. “But the 28th takes it to almost the end of the regular season. With no practices up to that date, you have to figure at least a week after that date takes you into May.
“We can presume what’s going to happen, but nothing official at this point,” he said. “And there’s no point in pointing fingers and placing blame anywhere.”
Astoria athletic director Howard Rub said, “Everybody’s looking for guidance. Part of (the OSAA’s) process moving forward is looking for guidance from the health department and the governor’s office.”
Miller said the thoughts are mostly with the senior athletes, who will not have a “normal” spring sports season, if they have one at all.
“That’s where your mind goes first,” he said. “The seniors who have worked long and hard, and certainly will miss that opportunity if that’s how it plays out.”
As Rub says, “even if I was a freshman, sophomore or junior, it would be tough. You only get four years. It’s a short career when you’re that age. Our girls basketball team … it’s devastating when you lose in those late rounds, but I’m not sure how you feel when your opportunity to even play was taken away.”
All coaches and athletes can do is “just leave it to athletic directors and the OSAA,” Miller said. “When they said April 28, my mind instantly went to ‘let’s play a league tournament in May, just to get some games in.’ Something.
“You think of our seniors in particular. They were part of back-to-back state championships, and then oh-so-close last year, and hungry to do well this year.”
There is still a slim hope to save the season.
The OSAA executive board will meet April 1 and again on April 15, to reevaluate the suspension of spring activities and sports, along with the remaining spring state championships.
Rub said, “I’m hoping the OSAA can come up with a modified season, but it will be interesting. The big question is, ‘will we even be able to go back on the 28th?’ There’s just so much uncertainty right now.”
Under the circumstances, he said, “they could extend the seasons a little into June. But all you can do is keep hoping that there will be a process or a way to save some of this stuff.
“You want to keep everything in perspective, but you can imagine all the stuff these kids do, whether it’s sports, music, drama or whatever it might be, and it’s a hard pill to swallow.”
Wolfe is also trying to keep things in perspective.
“As horrible as this is, I keep reminding myself that with some families, playing ball is the least of their worries,” he said. “We’re dealing with quarantines and the loss of revenue. The economic hit that the county is going to take with spring break in Seaside and the cruise ships coming to Astoria … a lot of people in Warrenton and Knappa work in those two towns.”
The word “unprecedented” keeps popping up when talking about the end of the 2019-20 school year and sports.
“It’s unprecedented in our lifetime, let alone the kids’,” said Miller, whose mother is currently confined to a care center. “But they’ve done a remarkable job of understanding at this point. I think they get it, and our school has done a good job the entire time, of preparing everyone for what’s going on.
“There will be lots of questions around seniors and graduation,” he added. “Ceremonies and ‘seat hours’ — they would have to amend those rules, because they’re not going to have enough seat hours to graduate. Hopefully we can figure out a way to get them some education while they’re not in school.”
Rub said, “It’s certainly unique to anything in my lifetime. You probably have to go back to World War II to see all the things we’re used to doing not even being an option.
“For these seniors, we need to find a way to make sure that they will graduate in the next few months. What I’m hearing all makes sense, but it’s just hard because it feels so extreme. And it’s never really fun dealing with extreme.”
In 1962, all three Oregon state championship baseball games were declared ties, when all three were rained out and not played.
Locally, the Astoria, Warrenton and Knappa baseball teams were all in the semifinals last year at their respective levels. All three squads have key seniors and No. 1 pitchers returning.
“I feel bad for all those (Warrenton) kids, too,” Miller said. “Astoria had a tough fall and winter, and they were looking forward to success this spring.”
Knappa’s softball team is a “legitimate semifinal contender this year,” said Miller, whose daughter Aiko is on the team. “Right now, our softball team has the perfect mix this year, of veterans, youngsters and pitching and speed. They have all the elements.”
As far as baseball, for the last five years Clatsop County has had a team competing for a state championship at Volcanoes Stadium.
Three teams — Astoria, Warrenton and Knappa — all played in the semifinals last season at their respective levels, with the Warriors advancing to the 3A state title game against La Pine, which defeated Warrenton 8-1.
Meanwhile, the Fishermen, Warriors and Loggers were all ranked in the top 10 in pre-season coaches polls for the 2020 season.
So if there is a season, and if the OSAA holds the state championships as scheduled, don’t be surprised if Clatsop County has another team or two playing at Volcanoes Stadium the weekend of June 5-6.
“The 3A and 2A/1A championships are scheduled for June 5, the same day as Warrenton’s graduation,” Wolfe said. “That would create a conflict. But I’ve never wanted a conflict as much as I want that one.
“That would mean that A, things are back to normal; B, we would be in the championship; and C, there would be a conflict with our graduation. I would love for there to be a scheduling conflict on June 5.”
Until final decisions are made by the OSAA, Miller said “We’ll make the best of it. Who knows? Maybe it ends in an epic whiffle ball game at the end of the year.”