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Boys soccer will be afoot this fall

What started as a brainstorm session between the Rogue Valley’s boys soccer coaches will come to fruition Oct. 16 when a high school fall league kicks into gear for eight local schools.

The league formation was a collective effort kick-started by South Medford coach Claudio Villa and his Phoenix cohort Chris Gallegos as a means to fill a void left by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Oregon School Activities Association’s decision to delay the official soccer season to its Season 3 in 2021, slated Feb. 22-May 1.

“All the head coaches in the valley have a pretty good relationship with each other so that part of it was pretty easy,” said Gallegos, noting more schools were interested in playing but unable due to various reasons. “Everyone works together really well so this should be a pretty fun deal.”

Teams from South Medford, North Medford, Grants Pass, Crater, Eagle Point, Phoenix, Hidden Valley and Cascade Christian will be part of a nine-week schedule that will play friendlies in settings throughout the Rogue Valley. Games will be on Tuesday and Friday nights.

All competitive scrimmages will be under OSAA rules and guidelines and feature 11-on-11 play with official referees. They will not count against a program’s allotted games for a season, or be for anything other than a chance for local athletes to get outdoors and play.

“All of us coaches and community members just started looking at anything we could do to get these kids doing something,” said Crater coach Jason Tester. “These poor kids are just trapped in their houses and everything’s out of the normal and there’s no exercise going on.”

Added Villa: “The bottom line is, when we coaches met, we said, hey, I think the kids are sick of being home and so are we as coaches. We want the chance to go outdoors, and exercising is good for your health. I think that’s the main goal for all the coaches, regardless what the outcome is after each game. Whether you win or lose, at the end the real thing that matters will be that you were able to go out there and compete and maybe that you feel a little better getting out of the home instead of being stuck in your house with what’s going on.”

The coaches considered playing at the club level but the option to cut player costs and play traditional games versus potential 7-on-7 matches took priority.

Girls soccer play in the Rogue Valley is already underway, but with more focus on play in the Southern Oregon Classic League (SOCL) and similar leagues instead of forming a league of high school teams.

“We thought there’s no reason to pay if we can put it together,” said Gallegos. “It’s just a little time and effort and sweat off our back, but we should be able to offer this up for these kids to play all the valley teams essentially for free.”

“This is nothing more than just the boys soccer coaches getting together and communicating with each other on what we wanted to do,” he added. “The girls soccer coaches are doing what they feel works best for them. It’s nothing more than just that. One way isn’t better than any other, this is just what we came together and decided to do.”

All of this, of course, was made possible by the OSAA’s Season 1 designation for Aug. 31-Dec. 27 that allows for outdoor competitive play at the discretion of local school districts in sports deemed to involve no contact to semi-contact.

“The minute the OSAA put out their guidance that they were going to allow this, it was literally like an atomic bomb of wheels turning in coaches’ minds on how do we take advantage of this,” said Tester.

“At first everybody was a little hesitant to kind of push the button and say, ‘Go,’” he added, “but when you guys (at the Mail Tribune) broke the story about the local football teams putting together a 7-on-7 passing league, the minute that kind of broke then everybody was full bore, 100 miles an hour going forward that we should get in on this and get these kids playing.”

During Season 1, 10 games for soccer are allowed, and schools must adhere to safety protocols for COVID-19 set by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), Oregon Department of Education (ODE) and the OSAA.

“We’re lucky because I know that there are other sports that are not allowed to compete and we are,” said Villa. “We just have to make sure we follow all the rules and all the protocols if we want to continue. We’ll see how it goes. We’re hoping that by the time it actually counts (in Season 3) that we are doing better in our community when it comes down to the infections that are happening with this pandemic.”

As part of the protocols, players and coaches will be wearing masks since the ability to maintain a 6-foot social distance is unlikely. The OSAA also allows for gloves to be worn beyond each goalkeeper but it is not mandatory.

“I know it’s hard but we’re going to make it work by taking breaks and things like that,” Villa said of the mask mandate. We haven’t figured it all out yet but we’re going to talk to the referees in our first match and see what seems like will work. We want to make sure the kids are OK on the field and that they are not having any breathing problems. We’ll take it one day at a time and then go from there.”

Seeing the writing on the wall earlier this summer, Tester said his team is already well into incorporating masks in all of their activities.

“I saw it coming early,” he said, “so I took the step and ordered some athletic gaiters for my boys and have actually had them practicing in them for the better part of two months to get them used to it and OK with the fact that they can play with these things and not fall over dead like the common myth that’s going around.”

Games will be open to only players, coaches and the referees. No spectators are being allowed at most sites, with each school district allowed to establish their own boundaries.

Currently, one fan per player is allowed to sit across the field from the benches at club soccer venues, providing they maintain social distancing, but most of the school districts involved in the boys soccer fall league have opted to ban spectators from attending out of precaution.

“The whole point of this is to try to make sure everyone is safe,” said Villa. “The more people that you have, there’s a higher risk of infection spreading.”

Exceptions include at Colver Field in Phoenix (where car-bound fans are allowed) and, potentially, at the new soccer fields at Josephine County Park, according to Grants Pass head coach Travis Boersma.

That said, each school district retains the option to deny access to spectators at any point, even if they begin the season under relaxed viewing opportunities like in Phoenix.

“Every location is going to be a little different,” said Gallegos. “It’s nice at Colver because you can park all the way around the field and you can watch that way from inside your car. But for the most part there’s no fans, we’re trying to keep up with the regulations that have been set forward.”

The coaches remained unified in saying all that matters is that the Rogue Valley’s athletes will be able to stretch their legs in open competition.

“I’m a big believer in teamwork and in having these kids get out there on the pitch, that’s what it’s all about,” said Boersma, in his first year with the Cavemen after succeeding Lowell Anderson. “At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s best for our players and the kids and keeping them active and lively and breathing in some fresh air for once since this smoke has finally left the area.”

“Everybody is doing the best they can with what they have and where they are,” added Boersma. “In these uncertain times, man, that’s all we can do.”

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

South Medford boys soccer run drills Monday at Spiegelberg Stadium. Photo by Denise Baratta