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Players, parents and coaches excited for return of high school sports in Salem area

This week, Salem-Keizer Public Schools will hold its first competitions after starting practice last week.

SALEM, Ore. — There are many student athletes across Oregon who are excited to be back to playing sports. 

In mid-February, the Oregon School Activities Association (OSAA) which oversees high school sports, decided to let school districts decide whether or not to opt in to fall sports.

This week, Salem-Keizer Public Schools will hold its first competitions after starting practice last week. On Monday, the district had its first high school soccer games. Throughout this week into next week, other sports will compete as well.

Janica Duncan is mom to five kids. One of them is Braxton. He’s a sophomore in the Central School District and he loves playing football. His school typically plays against some Salem-Keizer public high schools and he’ll get to play again this week.

Credit: Janica Duncan
Janica Duncan's son, Braxton

Duncan said her son’s first game will be against North Salem High School this weekend. She's grateful that football is restarting at area districts. The upcoming games and practices have given her son something to look forward to and made him more focused on school.

“For these kids in sports they need to be passing their classes in order to play. So, that is huge for these kids. It gives them motivation to do their school work,” said Duncan.

“We’re just really excited about bringing athletics back,” said Iton Udosenata, assistant superintendent for Salem-Keizer Public Schools.

According to a spokesperson for the district, roughly 1,400 student athletes from its six high schools will be participating in in-person "fall" sports. In addition to football, cross country, and soccer, late Friday the district announced volleyball would be added to the list

“Volleyball, for a while, we couldn’t bring back volleyball because we were only allowed to have six people total including coaches and athletes in the gym or the facility. Now we can have up to 50 people in that space,” said Udosenata.

He said all student athletes will have to wear masks and stay physically distant.

“We’ll have on-site testing available if our student athletes are symptomatic and we’ll also have a process for responding to an outbreak should that happen,” he said.

In order to be able to offer all sports, Udosenata said each season, which would typically run for 12-14 weeks, will be shorted to six weeks.

Coaches, like teachers, are able to get the COVID vaccine though it’s not required. Udosenata said the district is confident that with safety measures in place, they can keep students and staff safe. Although getting a vaccine would be value added.

No spectators will be allowed per state guidelines.

“At this point we have a limit of 120 people total that can be on a certain facility and we know that more than that will want to watch our student athletes participate,” said Udosenata.

But parents will still be able to watch over a livestream that Udosenata said will be set up by the end of the week.

While Duncan is excited her son gets to now play in competitive high school football games, she can’t wait to be able to watch him play in person.

“It’s hard to understand why parents can go to bars and movie theaters but they can’t watch their kids play sports outside, six feet apart, with a mask on. It’s hard to understand those things,” said Duncan.

Other larger districts including Portland Public Schools and Beaverton Schools are also allowing fall sports with safety protocols in place.