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May 9, 2021

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Martinez: Strange season affects prep football coverage plans

High school sports

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published:

There’s no getting around it. This is going to be a weird year for high school sports.

“I feel like this is going to be a year of adaptability,” La Center football coach John Lambert said. “I feel like how this remote learning is going to make teachers better teachers because it has forced teachers to find new ways to reach their students. And that’s kind of the approach we’re taking out on the football field.”

Need an example? Well, La Center will open their abbreviated five-game schedule on Saturday against Fort Vancouver, and the Wildcats have not had a full-contact practice yet.

“That’s weird, right?” Lambert said. “We’ve got a game in five days and we’ve not even tackled anybody yet.”

Limitations on practices while the region was still in Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan meant no contact during practices.

Lambert had scheduled a scrimmage against Woodland on Monday, but the weekend weather forced that to be called off.

Now, the Wildcats are hoping to just get back to their practice … on Wednesday.

“We’re going to practice in the gym tonight after the volleyball team gets done,” Lambert said Tuesday morning. “Our field is still covered in snow.”

So it’s going to be a strange season, and we at The Columbian are going to do everything we can to cover as much as we can.

After 11 months of not getting to cover much of anything, all we want to do is go to sporting events.

However, there are hurdles that could prevent us from doing that they way we would want to do it.

Because some of our sports staffers are performing other newsroom duties, we will start this prep season at about two-thirds our normal staffing.

Then there is the 200-person limit at game sites that includes participants. That could limit our access and alter the way we cover events.

And there will be other changes. For example, that special preview section we publish prior to every prep sports season? That won’t be happening for the 2020-21 school year.

There are just too many variables to take into consideration, not the least of which being the rapid turnaround from getting the green light from the state to play games in football, soccer and volleyball last Friday to teams actually playing games just five days later.

Also, if you are a fan of the print edition of The Columbian — and we love you if you are — for at least the first couple of weeks of the season, any event that starts at 7 p.m. won’t appear in the next day’s paper.

For football, at least this week, that won’t be much of an issue with games being moved to Saturday afternoon. But next week, you won’t see much, if any, of Friday’s prep football coverage in Saturday’s paper.

Our hope is by early March that will no longer be an issue.

And we aren’t going to be making predictions this year, from predicted league finishes to even predicted game outcomes.

I know those are popular features, but this season will just be too weird for any of that to make sense.

Take football for example. In the 2A Greater St. Helens League, teams are only playing a five-game schedule.

With eight teams playing football in the league, that means that every team will miss two league opponents in their schedule. Ridgefield, for example, won’t play Columbia River or Hockinson this season.

It’s conceivable that the season could end with two teams at 5-0.

Even though the 1A Trico League will consist of six teams for football, with 2A Fort Vancouver and 2B Goldendale joining temporarily, not every Trico team will play every Trico team. La Center and Seton Catholic won’t play. The Wildcats instead will face Montesano, while Seton takes on Tenino. That arrangement allowed Monte and Tenino to avoid having to play each other twice.

The 4A/3A GSHL will operate as a nine-team league, meaning that every time the league plays, one team has to sit out.

That league will play a seven-round league schedule for football, but only will have six weeks to do it. That means in late March one week will consist of games on Thursday-Tuesday-Saturday.

It gives every team the chance to play at least six games, and two lucky teams (Mountain View and Heritage) will get to play seven.

And that’s just the schedule as it stands now. We know it’s going to change.

The weather has already created changes. We can expect more because of facility issues, officiating issues or, heaven forbid, a positive test puts a team into quarantine.

So we’ve decided to focus less on previews, polls and predictions and more on profiles — the stories about the teams and athletes doing special things during this most unusual season.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep editor for The Columbian. He can be reached at (36O) 735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian.com or follow him on Twitter @360TMart.

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