SUTHERLIN — The beginning of the Oregon School Activities Association sports year is a long ways off thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, but student-athletes at Sutherlin High School are trying to make the most of their practice time.
The Bulldogs are holding workouts through the month for traditional fall sports on Tuesday evenings. Winter sports are meeting on Wednesdays and spring sports on Thursdays.
“That way our three-sport athletes have three nights a week where they get to work out,” Sutherlin athletic director Josh Grotting said. “It gives all of our coaches a chance to have contact with their kids and that’s important.”
The OSAA announced in early August fall sports in Oregon will be moved to 2021. Practices for football, volleyball, soccer and cross country will tentatively start on Feb. 22, with the regular season beginning March 8 for all sports but football, which kicks off March 16.
Practices for winter sports (basketball, wrestling and swimming) begin on Dec. 28 and competitions get underway Jan. 11.
Spring sports (baseball, softball, track and field, tennis and golf) practice is scheduled to start April 19, with games beginning May 3.
No season is guaranteed. The entire 2020 spring sports season was canceled because of COVID-19.
“This (new calendar) is the best case scenario at this point,” Grotting said. “We hope we can see it through.”
The Sutherlin High gym, known as the Dog Pound, was busy Wednesday with girls and boys basketball players going through drills. They were wearing face coverings and following social distancing guidelines.
“It’s fun being in here again,” said Grotting, who’s also the head girls basketball coach. “It’s just a social thing right now. We met last Wednesday and were here 2 1/2 hours, but most of that was just the kids talking to each other.
“Sometimes you take for granted how close you get to the kids and how close they are to each other. It’s fun watching them interact and get back to normal.”
“It’s been great,” added boys basketball coach Craig Stinnett. “A little sense of normalcy can go a long ways. The seniors have been through an awful lot. To be able to get back in the gym, even with as many safety precautions as we’re taking and limitations, does feel good.”
The Sutherlin girls basketball team finished second in the Class 3A state tournament on March 7, five days before COVID-19 shut down the sports world. The Bulldogs lost 51-40 to Clatskanie in the title game, finishing 25-3 overall.
On paper, the 2021 Sutherlin squad is expected to be one of the top teams in the state. Senior guard Jadyn Vermillion was a first-team all-state selection, while senior post Amy Dickover and sophomore guard Micah Wicks each made second-team all-league.
Vermillion, a three-sport standout in soccer, basketball and track, didn’t get an opportunity to defend her state championship in the long jump during the spring.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Vermillion said. “You definitely have to find positives with everything that’s going on right now, because a lot of things got taken away from us.
“I was excited (about the OSAA plan), just because they came out with a way for us to be able to start playing. I’m very thankful. It’s condensed seasons ... it won’t be normal, but as long as we’re having them and playing that’s all we can ask for.”
Dickover is a two-sport athlete, participating in basketball and volleyball.
“It’s obviously going to be weird switching the order (of seasons) up, but it’s great to get back out there and play,” Dickover said. “I didn’t have any summer stuff going on for either of my sports. I’m really excited to get back with my teammates on the court and get some good games in.”
Wicks competes in basketball, soccer and softball.
“It was a little scary at first,” replied Wicks, when asked how she felt about OSAA’s plan. “Soccer helps get me in shape for basketball, and going right into the running (in basketball) will be challenging for all of us. But I was appreciative they were doing everything they could to make it so we could play.
“It’s crazy how hungry I am. It’ll be fun to get back together with the girls — it’s nice to see all of them and get competitive once again.”
Seniors Kolbi Stinnett, the son of the coach, and Josh Davis are among the top returners for the Sutherlin boys basketball team, which shared the Far West League crown last year and finished 18-7 overall. Davis is also a member of the football team, which went 7-3 and advanced to the state playoffs.
“It’s been super nice. The best part is seeing all my teammates again in the same gym,” Kolbi Stinnett said. “I was just happy to hear at least we’d have sports. I was worried they’d shut everything down.”
Davis, an all-league football and basketball player, was disappointed that football got moved from the fall but is happy sports are still in the plans.
“It’s been awesome getting to catch up with my teams and being around the program,” he said. “I was super excited they’d let us do anything. Get what you get and don’t throw a fit.”
The athletes say distance learning for school is an adjustment.
“It’s good,” Wicks said. “My dad (Kevin) is a teacher, so I see that side of it as well and know how hard and complicated it can be. I have a lot of respect and empathy for the teachers and how much time they’re putting in. I know it’s as hard for them as it is for me.”
“It’s very different. It’s OK, but not ideal or anything,” Vermillion said. “We’re hoping we can go back to in-person by November.”