PENDLETON — Sauren Garton was ready to hit the court with the rest of the Pendleton Bucks volleyball team in just a matter of weeks. Now, she’ll have to wait months.
The Oregon School Activities Association executive board voted Wednesday, Aug. 5, to postpone high school fall sports until spring of 2021. This means that all high school football, soccer, cross-country, and volleyball athletes — like Garton — will have to wait even longer to get back on the field.
“Although I’m upset about the decision, and so are many others, I know this will make PHS athletes come back hungry for competition,” said Garton, an incoming junior outside hitter. “It will definitely be challenging to get back into the groove of things with lots of new rules, but I’m so excited for this year.”
Instead of her junior season kicking off at the end of August, volleyball practices will now begin on Feb. 22, 2021, while the first contest date is set for March 8.
Soccer and cross-country share the same first practice and contest dates, while football’s first practice is scheduled for Feb. 15.
Traditional winter athletics — including basketball, wrestling, and swimming — will take place throughout January and February, while spring sports, such as softball, baseball, track, tennis, and golf, will be held in May and June. Each season spans seven weeks to avoid as much overlap as possible.
And Garton is not just a single-sport athlete. She is also a pitcher for the Bucks’ softball team, and will now have little to no downtime between seasons, as opposed to taking the winter off to prepare for softball.
“I’ll have to put in the work before the (softball) season,” Garton said. “Not a lot of kids have had the chance to play their spring sport this year, so they missed a whole year to build their skills. Student athletes are going to have to work extra hard to get back into it again.”
Instead of competing in the Intermountain Conference league with her fellow Bucks this fall, Garton plans to hit the weight room to stay in shape.
“I’m going to have to put in the work now, because when we get back out there, it’s going to be go time,” she said. “With the shortened season, athletes are going to have to be ready right at the start, or else the season will come and go before we know it.”
Fall sport coaches throughout the area are doing what they can to make sure their athletes are ready to go when their season finally comes around. Heppner cross-country head coaches Russ and Toni Nichols are holding voluntary workouts for their team. Russ Nichols sees the extended offseason as a positive.
“We’ll have time to develop a better base for some of those runners that didn’t train much through the summer,” he said. “This extra time will allow us to prepare workouts that maximize performance with less risk for injury.”
The biggest difficulty to overcome, Russ Nichols said, will be the reduced transition time between sports.
“Especially for those three-sport athletes,” he added. “The early contests will be somewhat difficult without the sport-specific training. The kids, physically, will still be in great shape. Cross-country in the early spring may pose some weather challenges, but runners are tough and should adapt fine. It will be interesting to see what meets are available that time of year. Our home is still on April 8 and we can accommodate a large number of teams.”
Heppner football coach Greg Grant said he does not care when his team plays, just as long as they get to play.
“There has been so much uncertainty,” said Grant, whose team won the 2A state title last year. “There is a lot that goes into kids, families and the community that share the experiences. We will make it work.”
While coaches and players are excited to have a season of sorts, there is no set postseason plan. For Grant, that is not what is important at this time.
“Given the circumstances, we will take anything and think it’s great,” Grant said.
Down the road in Stanfield, volleyball coach Blaine Ganvoa said he is happy to have a season, whether it be in the fall or early spring.
“It’s a thankless job,” Ganvoa said of the OSAA committee. “They are trying to provide an opportunity for the kids. Having something is best for the kids — for their mental health. This (COVID-19) has taken its toll.”
The Tigers, who advanced to the state playoffs last fall for the first time in 29 years, will wait to see if there is another opportunity to return.
“We have to see how the postseason will work,” he said. “With all the different levels, it’s not one size fits all.”
It’s one of the many uncertainties that lie ahead of all teams, coaches, and athletes this season.
“This is just a little bump in the road,” Garton said. “We are athletes. Being an athlete comes with lots and lots of bumps in the road. That’s how we learn and become better.”