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Crater preps for special football showcase

For football coaches across the Rogue Valley, maintaining interest and quality activity from their players since the sport was placed on the prohibited list by the Oregon Health Authority and Gov. Kate Brown has been quite a chore.

Initially from senior class members, the natural question involved what exactly they were working toward in their training. Under strict safety protocols and with no legitimate carrot to place ahead of them given circumstances revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s all been about showing faith that one day things would turn around.

Thankfully the Oregon School Activities Association supplied the extra motivation all had been looking for two weeks ago when its executive board adopted a plan to play all sanctioned sports in 2021, including football from March-May.

That is, so long as football has been taken off the full-contact prohibited list prior to what is being dubbed Season 3 in the OSAA calendar.

But that’s a problem for another day, according to Crater head coach Berk Brown.

“Our guys have something to look forward to now,” said the first-year coach, “and it’s created something where they know that hopefully there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

To further that light, Brown and the Comets have devised a special invitation-only showcase for 7 p.m. Thursday at Dutch Meyer Field to culminate what has been a challenging few weeks of summer training.

Wearing masks in all activities but conditioning, the 60 to 75-strong Comets — like their peers across the Rogue Valley in Medford, Eagle Point and Phoenix — have been abiding by OHA guidelines requiring 6 feet of social distance between one another, workout groups of 10 or less and all other efforts to keep their gatherings as sanitary as possible.

“What I wanted to do since there is no football this fall,” said Brown, “is before school started, kind of get all our kids together and culminate all of our hard work that we’ve done this summer and just give kids an opportunity to compete against each other. Whether that be in a (skeleton drill) 7-on-7 type situation or having linemen catch punts or a tug of rope competition, I wanted to give our kids an opportunity to do something they haven’t done in a long, long time and that’s compete.”

What will make Thursday that much more special is that the Comets will be wearing their uniform jerseys, as has been the case since they split into black and orange squads the last two weeks, and competing in front of family and friends for the first time.

“We wanted to give mom and dad, aunt and uncle, grandma and grandpa or even just buddies an opportunity to come and watch all the hard work that these kids have been putting into football,” said Brown. “Because really at the high school level, other than some Legion baseball or a little bit of basketball, they haven’t been able to watch their kids partake in any sports so I also wanted to give parents an opportunity to come and watch their boys work under the lights and try to simulate a Friday night as best as we can under the circumstances that we’re under.”

In order to make it all work, Crater athletic director David Heard has worked with Brown to ensure that Thursday’s gathering remains below the state-allowed outdoor limit of 250 people.

“Each kid is allowed to have two people come watch,” said Heard. “They must be signed up ahead of time, wearing masks and practicing social distancing by staying 6 feet apart at all times.”

If spectators are not already on the list at the gate entrance, they will not be allowed to come into the stadium, according to Heard.

Brown said he’s thankful for the support he’s received not only from Heard but from Central Point School District 6 and the Central Point community.

“Dave’s doing a really good job of making sure we all follow (Oregon Department of Education) and all OSAA guidelines when holding an event on our campus,” said Brown. “Everyone has been behind us 100 percent allowing us to work with our guys under the guidelines that we obviously have to work under.”

The response from Crater’s athletes to their extra responsibilities has been “awesome,” according to Brown.

“What I’m telling them is it’s two-fold here guys, either you wear a mask now so we can play in March or don’t wear a mask now and risk losing it all,” said the coach of any potential eye rolls by the players to the protocols. “I think we’re pretty fortunate in District 6 that we’ve been allowed to share kids as much as we have and they know how fortunate that they are that they’re getting coached up right now, in the weight room and on the football field, so they’ve been great. Just like any teenager they need the constant reminder to throw that thing over their nose, but they’ve been fantastic.

Thursday’s competition will be a mixture of fun-filled moments and situational 7-on-7 work, from third down and red zone scenarios to two-point conversions. To complement those specialized moments, there will be things like having a competition among linemen catching punts and possibly competing in a relay race and an overall team tug of war.

“With big guys you try to make things as close to football as we can but it’s just so difficult with the protocols that we have to follow,” said Brown. “Our kids are wearing masks and doing everything they’re told to do but to simulate any type of 11-on-11 situation or any blocking and tackling situations is just kind of difficult for those big guys, so we’re just going to have some fun with those guys.”

Once school begins Sept. 8, Heard has set up a schedule for each sport to practice twice a week for two hours each day, leaving Fridays and weekends available as much as possible during this voluntary workout time. Football is expected to be the lone team to practice in the mornings, from 7-8:30 a.m., while most others will fit into 3-5 p.m. or 5-7 p.m. time slots.

Heard has also gone so far as to make sure certain programs aren’t aligned with one another to help with kids who are worried about having to make a choice between training for certain sports, even though every training period is purely voluntary. In that vein, an example is that girls soccer will run from 3-5 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, with girls basketball from 5-7 p.m. on those same days and volleyball and softball slated for Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We’re trying to put kids in a position where if they have time and they want to, then they can go train in multiple sports,” said Heard. “None of this is mandatory for them, but we want to help those athletes who enjoy playing multiple sports and don’t necessarily want to have to choose between them.”

Heard added that there will be no official competitions during Season 1, which runs through December and was left open to each district’s discretion so long as its county fit safety mandates. Training and conditioning during the fall and early winter will be Crater’s focus.

The best news, said Heard, is that no Crater athletes have shown signs of sickness or tested positive for COVID-19 since the school opened up training opportunities on June 15.

“We’re 70 days in with nothing so that should tell somebody something about whether or not we can do this,” he added.

That said, there is simply no room for being lackadaisical on safety protocols moving forward.

“I’m just hopeful that our kids can recognize that what they are going to lose is the chance to get together and do practices and those things,” said Heard. “If they choose to not be careful about what they’re doing and one of them acquires it, we’re shutting that sport down.”

Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater football practice Wednesday evening with athletes wearing masks at Crater Stadium in Central Point.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater football practice Wednesday evening with athletes wearing masks at Crater Stadium in Central Point.