Sunday, September 26, 2021
Sept. 26, 2021

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Martinez: Outdoor mask mandate will get tested at Friday football games

Tim Martinez: High school football

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor

Last month, when the state department of health released its guidelines saying that high school athletes would not be required to wear masks during practices and competitions, it came as a relief to many area coaches.

For some coaches, it was just one less thing they had to worry about.

For others, they said it would encourage more students to turn out of sports, as the mask mandate last spring was a big turnoff for some.

And then there was Columbia River football coach Brett Smedley, who encapsulated it best.

“Last year, we did whatever we could, and the kids did whatever they could and had to do in order to have a season,” Smedley said. “Our kids did a great job last season, practices, in games, everything with the mask issue. It was what we had to do to be safe, and now we’re being told we don’t have to.

“But we were fully prepared to do it if we had to. We didn’t talk a lot about it. It’s just one of those things. If you got to do it, you got to do it, and what’s the use in wasting a lot of energy complaining about it.”

What’s the use in wasting a lot of energy complaining about it? Exactly.

Those are words I wish every adult who attends high school events would embrace. But for some, it’s the exact opposite when it comes to masking up.

And that is weighing on school administrators as the governor’s mandate on masking at outdoor events with more than 500 people in attendance went into effect Monday.

For high school events, the first big test comes on Friday night at varsity football games.

“We will be requiring everyone entering (McKenzie Stadium) to be wearing a mask,” said Cale Piland, athletic director for Evergreen Public Schools. “We’ll have a box of masks at the gate ready to hand out to anyone who needs one. Although after all this time, I still don’t understand why someone wouldn’t have a mask. I think I’ve got six out in my car right now.”

Stadiums across the county will be doing the same thing on Friday, except for one.

La Center High School announced that it will cap capacity for Friday’s home game against Kalama at 500, staying under the governor’s threshold for outdoor events. That means no one will have to mask at La Center if they don’t want to.

La Center athletic director Matt Cooke said the school had issues with people who did not want to comply with the mask mandate at events last spring. To avoid any conflict this time around, the school set a capacity so it’s not an issue.

“It is not a battle that I want to pursue when events are held outside,” Cooke said. “And if we want to continue to have athletic events, we need to comply with the governor’s orders.”

It’s a significant move, as it figures to cost the school a couple thousand dollars in gate receipts, as this game figures to draw fans from La Center and Kalama.

Cooke said the players from both teams will be asked to submit names of people they would like to attend the game.

“This is the same process we used last year,” Cooke said. “We are working on the numbers to determine how many names each player can provide.”

The good news is the protocols this time around are different from what they were last spring. Last spring, the limit of people was set at 200, which included the players, coaches and officials. This time, the 500-person limit applies purely to the people in the stands, so there is more wiggle room.

But honestly, it’s a bit ridiculous that a school feels it needs to go this route to avoid hearing from adults complaining about masks.

Wearing a mask is the absolute least that any of us can do.

Games are being postponed left and right this fall. Prairie-Hudson’s Bay football got scrubbed last Friday. Prairie-Battle Ground is postponed this Friday. And postponements have not been limited to football.

Athletic directors have enough on their plate already.

“My biggest worry is if things keep getting worse, are sports going to get shut down?” Piland said. “No one wants that, so we’ll do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

If you want to help in the cause, it’s really easy. If you go to a prep event, be prepared to wear a mask. And if you’re asked to put on, put one on.

And if you don’t want to do that, stay home.

If you got to do it, you got to do it. Because what’s the use in wasting a lot of energy complaining about it?