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Smoky skies skew football schedules

North, Ashland, Crater, Phoenix, St. Mary’s move Friday’s openers; SOU postpones Saturday tilt

Poor air quality brought on by wildfire smoke outside the region, and little end in sight, forced a host of changes Thursday afternoon to the sports schedules for this weekend.

For the fourth time in five seasons, including the delayed 2020 campaign, there will be no game at Spiegelberg Stadium tonight to celebrate the opening of the high school football season in September.

North Medford, instead, made the difficult but necessary decision to reverse venues and will play at Del Norte High in Crescent City, California, for Friday night’s season opener. Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Other high schools rescheduling games originally set to be played here locally Friday are Ashland, Crater, Phoenix and St. Mary’s.

Southern Oregon University also postponed Saturday’s home opener at Raider Stadium against Montana State-Northern to next week, when the Frontier Conference has a conference-wide bye.

“It’s one of the worst calls you could possibly make because we have a brand new head coach and we wanted to welcome coach (Nathan) Chin in with his first home game,” said North Medford athletic director Brent McConaghy. “We worked really hard to make sure that schedule came that way. We have a great team, we have a tremendous offensive line and a lot of seniors coming back who wanted to play in front of a packed stadium at Spiegelberg — with their masks on, of course — and that’s kind of hard to say we’re not going to play this game at home.”

While it’s a tough call to make, McConaghy and the rest of the athletic directors in the area with home games had little choice. Oregon School Activities Association mandates for air quality state that teams are not allowed to play outdoor contests if the air quality index exceeds 100. Practices are allowed up to 150, although the recommendation is to seek indoor facilities if possible.

“The problem is our air quality has been so poor lately that the only thing we’ve really been allowed to do across the valley is either move our games outside of the valley or practice under 150,” said McConaghy. “With it needing to be under 100 for air quality to play games, this whole week has been above 100 so that kind of made the decision for us.”

What remained most important is that the players will be able to start their seasons on time, something Chin said he and his group were definitely looking forward to happening as they prepped for the 2021 campaign following last year’s delayed season that spilled over into this past spring.

“The last two months I’ve really gotten an opportunity to be around these kids and get to know them and it’s been a lot of fun,” Chin said of taking over at North Medford for Steve Turner. “I really have enjoyed being around this group of kids. Their work ethic is awesome. They love to compete and they like that challenge so I’m really excited to see what they do once we’re able to go against another team.”

While not ideal, McConaghy said he has all the faith in the Black Tornado group to make the most of a season that now will include three road games (at least) in the first four weeks, which is similar to North’s 2018 campaign.

“These are strong kids and even stronger coaches and they’re going to persevere and make something good happen,” said the AD.

St. Mary’s athletic director and football coach Jamie Young also confirmed Thursday that his Crusaders will now open the season on the road against North Valley at Sutherlin High. Kickoff is 3 p.m. Friday.

Earlier this week, Phoenix relocated its season opener against Sutherlin to a road matchup at 7 p.m. Friday, while Crater moved its opener against North Bend to 5 p.m. Saturday at Marshfield High in Coos Bay.

The site for Ashland’s home opener against Henley was set to be determined Friday morning, with the options including either playing in Klamath Falls or in Eugene at Willamette High School.

SOU officials got the ball rolling with Thursday’s schedule shakeup early in the day after choosing to make the call as MSU-Northern was set to start the long bus trip from Havre, Mont. All tickets purchased online can be used on the makeup date.

In Friday’s regularly scheduled home openers, South Medford opens its season at 7 p.m. against McNary, while Grants Pass is at Bend, Eagle Point at Churchill and Cascade Christian at La Pine.

Table Rock Sports will provide free streaming for fans unable to make most of those road trips, as it does regularly throughout the season at tablerocksports.net.

Joe Brett, co-founder and president of Table Rock Sports, said his group will be carrying Friday’s North Medford, South Medford, Grants Pass, Mazama, St. Mary’s, Cascade Christian games, as well as Crater’s game Saturday.

Games will also be available on the radio for North Medford on The Game (96-1 FM and 580-AM) and South Medford (99.5-FM and 880-AM).

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

North Medford quarterback Mason Warren pitches the ball during a recent practice. The Black Tornado had its home opener moved to California tonight due to air quality issues here in the Rogue Valley. ANDY ATKINSON / MAIL TRIBUNE