Philomath High School Reader Board
Philomath High School (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Philomath High School boys basketball program had a productive practice on Nov. 17. Veteran coach Blake Ecker said the players appeared to progress to a new level of energy and it showed with how they moved the ball and themselves around on the court.

“The last practice that we had was really good; it was really a nice practice,” Ecker said. “It was competitive and they did a nice job and it was encouraging to see that and we were hoping it would spur a little bit more.”

This is the first in a series of four stories on
Philomath High’s Session 3 sports teams that
began practicing on Nov. 9. Today—Boys basketball;
Tuesday—Girls basketball; Wednesday—Wrestling;
and Thursday—Swimming).

Then Ecker added, “But then we got the call that we couldn’t go anymore.”

The call came on Nov. 18 with news of the governor’s two-week pandemic-related freeze that restricted indoor activities. So far now, Ecker and the other programs are hoping for another call that they can resume.

Session 3 practices started Nov. 9 with boys basketball going on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Each practice lasted about 90 minutes and required pandemic restrictions for indoor athletics were in effect.

“We can’t scrimmage or anything, so it’s kind of a bummer,” Ecker said a day after all activities were suspended. “We would do as much as we could with what we had. It was tough, no doubt about it.”

Ecker said 25 athletes signed up to participate in the practice sessions. Attendance at the four practices that materialized ranged from 20 to 23.

The restrictions force players to wear masks and work in small groups. In the final practice, Ecker and his assistants had players doing shell drills.

“It’s a four-on-four defensive drill but we can break it down,” Ecker said. “You only have four and we could be 6 feet apart … and off the ball, we’re still 6 feet apart. On the ball, we just told them, ‘hey, you can’t be on the ball right now … you have to sit back.’”

Athletic Director Tony Matta said both the first and second sessions came off really well and that 120 to 130 students participated in each.

“Really, it’s doing what we wanted it to do … we want to give the kids an opportunity to have something in their day outside of staring at a computer screen all day long.”

Not all PHS sports programs participated during the Season 1 sessions, mostly because of coaches’ concerns about COVID-19, Matta said. However, he added that was fine because the workouts were all voluntary for both players and coaches.

Programs opting to not meet were tennis in Session 1 (spring sports) and boys soccer in Session 2 (fall sports).

The Shining Stars dance team and the PHS cheer squad have also been participating. Since they could be characterized as year-round activities, they weren’t limited to a single session with two workouts per week for the duration of Season 1.

Philomath was among the eight Class 4A teams in the state to still be playing when the boys basketball tournament at Forest Grove was called off last season. The Warriors won the Oregon West Conference with a 10-2 record and finished 20-4 overall for a No. 2 ranking heading into the postseason.

Seniors expected to be on the roster this season include Michael Lundy and Dillon Olsen. Overall, the Warriors appear to be young with six players lost to graduation.

At this time, the Oregon School Activities Association’s schedule shows winter sports beginning Dec. 28 with practices and Jan. 11 with games.

“Most of the stuff we have in, most of them know already,” Ecker said, referring to running plays. “I think we could hit the ground running (on Dec. 28) in shape and ready to go, so I was excited about that.”

In the four practices that came off, Ecker had players working on fundamentals and wanted to see if they could increase the intensity level. In the first practice on Nov. 10, coaches ran the players through what is known as “Dirty 30” drills.

“All of the drills within those are great fundamental drills but it picks up the intensity level and we’re able to stay socially distant and do the things that we’re supposed to be doing,” Ecker said. “We want to get better fundamentally and we want them to ease their way into conditioning.”

The “Dirty 30” includes 13 drills in 30 minutes and Ecker said the team didn’t even come close to finishing.

“We were stopping some guys after a few drills so they could have some water because they are pretty badly out of shape,” he said. “But we were hoping to get some conditioning and then start running plays. We have a couple of new guys that are with us and so as we get them accustomed to what we do, I thought, ‘gosh, this is going to be a great opportunity to get in shape and be ready to go Dec. 28 and have a seamless transition.’”

Before practices got started, Ecker said his thoughts were all over the board, not knowing what to expect. He wondered how many athletes would show up for the voluntary workouts.

“As soon as they show up and you start doing some things, you get more excited,” he said. “I got more and more excited as the practices went on and then having that last practice much more spirited was really nice as well. Now I’m bummed we don’t have practice.”

Ecker believed most of the athletes appeared to enjoy the opportunity to practice.

“I feel for the parents, for the kids,” Ecker said. “It’s tough right now because they want to be playing sports, that’s some of the things they really enjoy. For some of these guys, it’s why they even go to school.”

There have been many studies in the past that illustrate the importance of extracurricular activities in a student’s schedule.

“We’re keeping our distance, we’re wearing our masks, we’re doing everything that everybody’s asking us to do, so it makes it tough,” Ecker said. “Who knows what’s going to happen?”

The OSAA’s executive board will meet Dec. 7 and the meeting agenda includes an action item about how to proceed with the upcoming seasons that are currently scheduled to begin Dec. 28. A lot of theories and rumors are floating around about which direction it might go. Ecker is trying to stay upbeat despite the challenging COVID-19 numbers that have been seen over the past few weeks.

“We want to be positive because we want to have a chance,” Ecker said. “We only have two seniors right now that are playing but still, those guys deserve a shot to play this year. I don’t know, it’s tough, because the vaccine is coming out soon but it won’t get distributed in time by Dec. 28, so I don’t know.”