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Raiders head indoors as smoky conditions worsen in Ashland, Rogue Valley

By Danny Penza

Ashland Daily Tidings

Dealing with Ashland’s triple-digit mid-summer heat is something that Southern Oregon University head football coach Charlie Hall pretty much knows will be a given.

Unfortunately, having to be forced inside due to smoke from area wildfires — including the Hendrix fire currently burning all of about nine miles southwest from campus — is now a reality as well.

As Jackson County and pretty much all of the Rogue Valley deals with some of the worst air conditions currently going in the country, according to air quality monitoring website www.airnow.gov, Hall and the Raiders have been forced to head into the brand new Lithia Motors Pavilion as they continue their offseason training activities in advance of preseason camp next month.

“We all have our challenges,” Hall tweeted out Monday. “The key is making the best adjustment and control what we can control. Training continues. Smoke doesn’t stop effort.”

SOU volleyball, you’ve got some company in your new digs.

“It’s so good to have that because we haven’t had that for three years now,” Hall said by phone later in the day, referencing SOU having to use North Mountain Gymnasium at Ashland High prior to Lithia Motors Pavilion being completed this past spring. “It’s so convenient if it’s scheduled right.”

On Monday, Hall changed the Raiders’ usual 7 a.m. gathering to later in the morning since there was volleyball offseason workouts going until 9:30 a.m. in the new gym., with part of the football team’s workout also being done in their normal weight room before going inside for more of cardio-related activities.

Hall said that today’s workouts will, at least in part, be done at SOU’s new rec center, which has its own challenges since it belongs to the entire student body, not just student-athletes and the athletic department.

“I know that they don’t want to make it a habitual thing where sports sort of takes over the student rec center because then it doesn’t become a student rec center, it becomes an athletics rec center,” Hall said. “But, I think in the sense of trying to protect our students for activities where it’s important to be outside, we can at least get some of our work done indoors whether it’s from a technical or conditioning standpoint.”

Air quality conditions have gotten progressively worse over the past seven days as smoke has continued to smother more and more of the Rogue Valley, forcing cancellation or postponement of outdoor events as well as local sporting events like the Medford Rogues’ weekend series at Harry & David Field.

The simple fact of trying to plan ahead might be the biggest task of them all for the Raiders’ coaching staff.

“It’s extremely challenging, but we look at all kinds of alternatives — and one of those being we might have to go away from Ashland,” said Hall, whose team officially reports to preseason camp on Aug. 9. “But then there’s the resources to pay for that. Southwestern Oregon Community College would be a great place to go up in Coos Bay — it’s on the coast, it’s cooler, typically not much smoke goes into that area, we could get some work done, but you have to move 110 players, 10 coaches, a training staff that needs to be displaced from the rest of the sports programs. Those things are not easy to do for a school our size.”

Dealing with smoke from area fires is nothing new for the Raiders, though.

Just last year, Southern Oregon was forced to move its season opener against Eastern Oregon to Sherwood High School just outside of Portland after it was deemed unhealthy to hold the game in Ashland.

SOU ended up beating EOU 31-21, the first of what proved to be 12 straight wins and en route to an appearance in the NAIA national semifinals.

“We’ll make it work,” Hall said. “When I look back at last year, the very next week (after the season opener) we did not go out and practice outdoors and then we played outside on Saturday and we won. ... It is doable, and we can prepare and do what we can, but you like to have that nice base before you start compromising once the season hits.”

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

Larry Stauth Jr./For the Daily TidingsSouthern Oregon University tight end Ben Bachman races upfield thanks to a timely block by Parker Randle (84) on defensive back King Harvin (20) at the SOU Spring Game in May. The Raiders have been forced to relocate their offseason practices inside due to area wildfires causing unhealthy air quality in the Rogue Valley.