Sports back at high school, limited to ‘mini seasons’ for start

Scott Swanson

After six months of relative inactivity, Sweet Home High School students are getting a chance to get back on the athletic fields and into the gym, officially.

Athletic Director Nate Tyler said last week that the school would start “mini seasons” Monday, Sept. 21, for spring sports – baseball, softball, track and field, and golf.

The five-week “spring” season will then be followed by a “mini season” for fall sports starting on Oct. 26.

Winter sports – basketball, wrestling and swimming, will begin a “mini season” on Nov. 30, which will lead directly into those sports’ shortened “regular” season on Dec. 28.

The Oregon School Activities Association announced in early August that it had opted to schedule truncated winter, fall and spring seasons – in that order – with actual contests starting in the new calendar year and running through late June.

Under the new schedule, the winter sports of basketball, wrestling and swimming can begin official practices Dec. 28, with their first contests Jan. 11 and culminating week March 1-7. Basketball teams will have 14-game regular seasons.

The fall sports of football, soccer, volleyball and cross country can start practicing Feb. 22 and will play their first contests March 8. All have culminating weeks of April 26 through May 2, except for football, which extends to May 3-9. Football will have a seven-game regular season.

The spring sports of baseball, softball, track, golf and tennis will begin practices April 19, play their first contests starting May 3 and have culminating weeks June 21-27. Baseball and softball teams will have 18-game regular seasons.

All of this is predicated on COVID-19 guidance from the Governor’s Office and Oregon Health Authority.

According to current state rules, schools can’t open for in-person learning until the statewide COVID-19 testing rate is at or below 5 percent for three consecutive weeks and, locally, there are 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 people in a seven-day period.

In addition, counties must meet benchmarks to open their schools. For three weeks in a row, they must have 10 or fewer cases per 100,000 over a seven-day period and a test positivity rate of 5.0 percent or below over a seven-day period.

During the mini seasons, sports and activities will be under the discretion of local schools and districts, and will be permitted, provided they fall in line with guidance from the Governor’s Office and OHA.

Tyler said early sign-ups for sports have gone well. Registration can be done via Family ID and athletes will need up-to-date health exams to participate. Plus, normal academic eligibility requirements will be applied.

“We’re getting kids out, getting them practicing,” he said. “We’re excited to get stuff in kids’ hands. Nobody’s been happy about doing distance learning.”

He said athletes may be able to compete during the mini seasons, but that will depend partly on other schools’ willingness to engage.

“We have to compete within our region or within our league,” he said. “We’re trying to schedule some competition. We have a couple of local schools saying they’d be interested.

“We’re not restricted to Linn County, but we want to be thoughtful about whom we invite in, where we travel.”

The plan for sports has come together in a hurry as officials monitored COVID rates and other circumstances, and the state agencies to determine what was likely to work.

“We were hoping to have a final answer by the beginning of September, but with all the COVID stuff, fires, etc., we didn’t get it up until this week,” Tyler said late last week.

Response has been enthusiastic, he said.

“The kids were eagerly waiting for something to happen. They responded very quickly. Within one way of registration I think we had an entire baseball team.”

Track will be under the supervision of Co-Head Coach Nathan Whitfield, since Dakotah Keys is also an Oregon State Police trooper, whose schedule has been less stable lately “with everything that’s been going on,” Tyler said.

“The police need all hands on deck.”

Baseball Coach John Barnes and softball Coach Karyn Hartsook said they didn’t find out until last week whether this was for real.

“It’s good,” Barnes said. “When they said that we could come out and start doing some practices for six weeks, that definitely was a light for these kids and for us.

“We lost our spring, but we also lost our summer. This will kind of have that feel of summer ball. We’ll do some practices, get the kids back into it.”

He and Hartsook said they’re looking to play scrimmages or games with other schools.

“If that doesn’t work, then we’ll do scrimmages with ourselves,” Barnes said. “I think if we can get a team and an OSAA umpire, we’re good.”

Hartsook said it was “exciting” to see the high school take steps to get kids back on the field.

“Our athletic director is working really hard to get us games, so kids can compete and be part of this, as well as getting them back into the classroom.”

She said she plans to start with three practices a week as her athletes figure out their school schedules and make the other adjustments necessary under current circumstances.

“This came up rather quickly,” Hartsook said. “We’re just figuring it all out. We will run into some weather that will come soon. We’re just hoping to get some practice, some games in.”

For information on opportunities and how to sign up, visit or contact the Athletic Department at (541) 367-7629.