Commentary: Enjoy every week of football because nothing is guaranteed

Paul Valencia with a reminder about the challenges of playing sports during the pandemic

Sports fans have grown accustomed to a four-word phrase below the listings of coming events.

Schedule subject to change.

Old-school newspapers put that disclaimer below many of the sports schedules it published because, well, they just had to be sure. Especially for any sport that was affected by weather. Every baseball and softball fan knows, for example, that a schedule put together in January has virtually no chance of remaining as is by April.

For the most part, though, a football schedule was a football schedule. Of course, all events associated with schools are subject to change for a variety of reasons. But again, once the football schedule was set, it usually was the football schedule.

Not anymore.

For this season, maybe we need a new disclaimer. Add just one more more:

Schedule subject to change. Duh.

Talking to media colleagues throughout Washington, last month we guessed that more than half of the football teams we cover will be affected by a schedule change. Either a team will face some sort of COVID protocol issue or will be scheduled to play a team with its own COVID issues, forcing a change.

For Clark County Today’s purposes, we “follow” 18 football programs in Southwest Washington. Tonight, it’s Week 3 of the high school football season, and at least five of the 18 teams have had to deal with changes or cancellations.

The Battle Ground football program was put on hiatus and had to call off its game with in-district rival Prairie for this week’s game. Prairie is already accustomed to scrambling. The Falcons, with their new athletic director, found a new opponent at a moment’s notice for the second consecutive week.

Hudson’s Bay had to call off its game with Prairie in Week 2. 

Fort Vancouver did not play its non-league game in Week 2, either.

As of this writing, Bay and Fort are scheduled to play games this week.

La Center has not had to change its schedule but there is a major change in how La Center is handling its crowd at tonight’s home game against Kalama. In one of the biggest small-school games in the state this season, La Center is capping the crowd size to 499. That way, the event will be fewer than 500 people in order to avoid dealing with the state’s latest whim, requiring people to wear masks for any outdoor event with a crowd of 500 or more.

“I am not anti-mask,” said Matt Cooke, La Center’s athletic director. “I’m anti-being-the-mask police. Too many issues.”

La Center fans will be limited to 250. Kalama fans are allowed 150 fans. The school is reserving 60 spots for La Center students. Plus another 39 for the La Center band. (Players, coaches, officials, game ops do not count toward the 500 number. Hey, it’s science!)  

Kalama is the top-ranked team in all of Class 2B football. La Center is in the top 10 in 1A football. For those who do not secure a ticket, the game will be live streamed for free on the La Center Wildcat football Facebook page. 

Cooke wonders how the bigger schools are going to deal with the new mask rule. He is not confident that all fans will comply. 

Back to the Battle Ground School District, the Tigers were told to put a temporary halt to football, according to Rita Sanders, communications officer for the district. 

“Clark County Public Health informed us that they determined it was a team-wide exposure,” Sanders said, noting there was a transmission that can be traced to the football team.

From there, a student-athlete’s availability to return to school, let alone athletics, is based on a number of factors, including whether a student is vaccinated or not.

Unvaccinated students must quarantine for a minimum of seven days, and it would be seven days only if that student has a negative test for COVID.

Sanders said it is all based on the COVID flow chart provided to school districts by Clark County Public Health.

The plan at Battle Ground is for the football team to resume practice on Sept. 21, in hopes of preparing for its Week 4 game later that week.

Prairie, meanwhile, went to work right away to find an opponent. Any opponent. Again.

Last week, Prairie’s originally scheduled game was called off due to issues with the Hudson’s Bay program. Prairie was turned down by one school, but later found an opponent in Centralia. This week, Prairie is heading south to play Marshfield of Coos Bay, Ore., in Eugene.

“I’m trying to work as hard as I can to give all the kids a great experience,” said Manny Melo, Prairie’s new athletic director.

As the former basketball coach at Battle Ground, who dealt with all the stops and starts to last year’s academic/athletic schedule, Melo said he knows how depressing it can be for athletes to miss out on opportunities. 

“I want them to have a great experience. That’s the main thing,” he said.

Willing and able to play anyone, anywhere. That’s the Falcons’ message. So the Falcons are heading to Eugene. 

COVID issues and scheduling issues are likely to continue throughout the rest of the season. It’s not just football. Other sports have seen changes, as well.

This is life in the pandemic. 

It also should mean that no team, when available, should be passing up opportunities to play. If you’ve got an open date and another team calls to try to schedule, please say yes. After all, there is no guarantee that your next scheduled game will be played.

Duh.

Real season begins in 2A GSHL

After two weeks of non-league play, the 2A Greater St. Helens League is set to have seven consecutive weeks of league play. (We hope.) We are a long way from Week 9, but it is very possible the league championship will be determined this week. Ridgefield is taking on Hockinson. 

Ridgefield is the up-and-comer in the league. Hockinson is the defending champion. The seven-time defending champion.

In 2019, Hockinson took care of Ridgefield 47-25. In the spring of 2021, though, it was a defensive battle, with the Hawks prevailing 14-7. Is this the year that Ridgefield breaks through with a victory? The Spudders have had no problems this season with blowout victories. Hockinson is 0-1, a four-point loss to Lynden in a game featuring two top-five ranked teams.

Tough test again

No other league games around Clark County besides the full 2A GSHL slate. However, the Toughest Non-League Schedule in the Region Tour continues at Camas. The Papermakers are hosting Jesuit, a traditional Oregon power, at 7:30 p.m. at Doc Harris Stadium. Jesuit might not be the same Jesuit as in the past. But still, the name Jesuit is special. Should be another great atmosphere.

Undefeated

By my records, I have five teams from our coverage area that are 2-0 after two weeks: Skyview (4A), Evergreen and Prairie (3A), Ridgefield (2A), and La Center (1A). 

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