Last week in the minutes before kickoff near the corner of the Machetanz Field end zone I watched a different start to the 2020 local prep football season.

As the Palmer High football program celebrated its senior night and the Colony Knights ran through offensive plays in their pregame warmups, I stood with the camera in hand and mask on the face. It had been about 26 years since I wore a mask at Machetanz. The last time it was attached to my helmet. But to me, that wasn’t a big deal. I agree with what Colony head coach Robbie Nash told me after the game.

“These things here, some people can disagree,” Nash said as he tugged on his face covering. “I tell my kids I’d wear a Buzz Lightyear helmet if I had to for us to get to play football.”

Face masks, social distancing and limited attendance. It’s all part of pandemic life. But at least we have football, at least for now.

This weekend the Mat-Su will be home to the only football in Alaska. The Anchorage School District has paused its fall sports season. Teams in the upper Kenai Peninsula (Kenai, Soldotna and Nikiski) are also on hold until at least early September. All of the games scheduled in the Fairbanks area this weekend have been canceled. A player who participated in the West Valley-Lathrop game last week tested positive for COVID-19 according to the Fairbanks North Star School District, and players and coaches within those programs are now on quarantine. Now the Eielson-Valdez and Homer-North Pole games have also been canceled.

“We are all really blessed to play football right now,” Nash said, “My heart goes out to those teams that are not playing. Hopefully Anchorage can get it going. I feel sorry for the Kenai Peninsula. Hopefully they can get it going.”

And the only thing we know about the remainder of the football season, and all prep sports, is we don’t know. We don’t know what will happen. We don’t know how long they will continue. And that is why in Week 2, we have two of the Valley’s most anticipated games of the season.

Colony hosts Wasilla and Redington hosts Houston Friday night, with both games slated to start at 6 p.m. Palmer has a bye week. It’s part of an eight-week football schedule constructed by district activities directors. Each program is slated to play six games, and have two weeks off. Similar schedules have been put together for cross-country running, volleyball, tennis and swimming and diving, with the only competition within the district through at least Oct. 14.

Local programs are scheduling senior nights early in the season, rather than their final home date, just in case. The Palmer and Houston football programs celebrated their seniors last week. Senior night for volleyball is at Wasilla High Thursday night. Senior night for football is at Colony and Redington Friday. Just like getting some of the most anticipated matchups in early, it’s a smart move to celebrate the senior nights while we have the chance. We simply don’t know. Players, coaches, families and fans of basketball and all of the spring sports know how quickly everything can disappear just as they did a few months ago.

Colony and Wasilla both enter Friday’s game at 1-0 after shutout victories during the opening week. Colony stormed past Palmer 49-0 and Wasilla blanked Houston, the defending Division III state champion, 33-0.

Wasilla started off the 2019 season 3-0. Colony finished 3-0 during the final three weeks of the season last year and upset top-seeded East Anchorage 28-27 during the first round of the Division I playoffs.

Houston enjoyed a storybook season in 2019, winning its first state championship in program history after an undefeated season. Redington started its 2019 season 3-0 and 4-1.

Contact Frontiersman managing editor Jeremiah Bartz at editor@frontiersman.com.

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