Houston Hawks

Houston head coach Glenn Nelson works with his quarterbacks during a team practice July 30.

Prep sports are back. Things will just look a bit different as Mat-Su Borough School District officials continue to update its mitigation plans during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Mat-Su varsity fall sports kick off Friday night with a pair of prep football games. Division III defending state champion Houston hosts Wasilla and Colony makes the short trip to Palmer High School. Both games are scheduled to start at 6 p.m. and will be the first examples of what local prep sports will look like with the current protocol.

Palmer High School activities director Dale Ewart said district officials designed a mitigation plan for sports, using guidance from organizations such as the Alaska Schools Activities Association, the National Federation of High School Sports and the Center for Disease Control. The current plan calls for major differences such as limited attendance and required face coverings at district sporting events. Local squads will also only play teams within the district until at least Oct. 14.

For outdoor events, such as football, Ewart said the attendance will be capped at 750 people at Colony, Palmer and Wasilla high school fields. There is a maximum of 450 people allowed at games hosted by Redington and Houston.

For indoor events, such as volleyball, the district has set a capacity at 215 people for Colony, Palmer and Wasilla, 150 for Redington and 100 for Houston.

Of each total, 50 are reserved for school staff and those working at each game. The remainder of the total will be split among the home and away teams. Ewart said wristbands will be distributed, and those without a wristband will not be be allowed inside.

A select number of wristbands will be distributed to the students participating in the event — players, cheerleaders and band members — the night before the event. Students can give those wristbands to family members who chose to attend the event.

Local schools will use the same system of distribution of wrist bands for junior varsity and C team contests. In football, junior varsity games were moved to Thursday nights to help reduce the number of spectators.

Those who cannot attend football games at Colony, Palmer and Wasilla, Ewart said, can view the games online at nfhsnetwork.com. Houston and Redington are expected to be equipped with the ability to live stream games in the near future.

All indoor events will also be streamed online at nfhsnetwork.com.

Ewart said masks are also required for staff, spectators, coaches and players on the sidelines in all district sports.

There will also be additional sport-specific guidelines. For example, in volleyball teams will not switch sides during a match and will have their own bag of balls to warm up prior to the match. In football, the home and away bench areas have also been expanded to allow for better social distancing.

Local activities directors have built a schedule for football, volleyball, tennis, cross-country running, and swimming and diving that includes only in-district competition.

“It makes a lot more sense,” Ewart said of scheduling events only within the district. “It gives us complete control of our own mitigation plans.”

In football, the current schedule calls for each of the district’s five schools to play an eight-week schedule from Aug. 21 through Oct. 9. There will be six games and two bye weeks. Each team will play two Valley opponents twice and one Mat-Su foe once during the regular season.

The cross-country season currently features five races. The Redington Invitational (Saturday), Colony Invitational (Aug. 29), Palmer Invitational (Sept. 12), Wasilla Trailblazer (Sept. 19) and Valley Championships (Oct. 3) are on the schedule.

The tennis schedule includes a jamboree at Colony High School on Saturday, two regular season events, conference matches and a tournament Sept. 28-30 at Colony.

There are four regular season events currently on the swimming and diving schedule. The list includes the Colony Invitational (Sept. 19), Palmer Invitational (Oct. 3), Wasilla Invitational (Oct. 17) and the Halloween Splash (Oct. 30).

The current volleyball schedule starts Aug. 27 and is set to run through Nov. 13-14. Each of the district’s five programs will play 12 regular season matches. There are also two tournaments on the schedule.

Ewart said schools are also hosting senior nights for fall sports early in the season rather than the customary spot at the end of the season.

“We don’t want to miss the opportunity in case we do get shut down,” Ewart said.

Much like in-class instruction, district officials are using the three-tiered system to assess the risk during the pandemic. It’s divided into low risk, medium risk and high risk. Low risk includes a range of no to minimal community transmission of coronavirus, medium includes a range of low to moderate community transmission and high risk is widespread community transmission. As of Wednesday night, Colony, Palmer, Redington and Wasilla were listed as medium risk and Houston as low risk.

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

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