Philomath High boys soccer goalkeeper Teddy Benbow makes a stop against Favian Aceves during practice on Monday evening. The Warriors are the Class 4A defending state champions. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

With the sun shining bright down on Philomath High’s athletic fields early Monday evening, it’s obvious that summer’s not finished just yet. But the sight of students participating in drills serves as a reminder that fall is just around the corner with those seasons set to begin in roughly three weeks.

On one field, the defending state champion boys soccer team scrimmages and reveals that a lot of talent remains in the program. On another field, girls soccer players are practicing to begin the process of readying themselves for what they hope will be a successful fall. And on the grounds behind Clemens Field, athletes rotate through various football drills to condition bodies and strengthen knowledge.

Those activities represented only three of Philomath High’s teams getting started on Monday. The cross-country, volleyball, dance/drill and cheer programs also held organized practices.

Philomath High Athletic Director Tony Matta estimated that more than 180 students had signed up for a fall sport.

“Football, I’d like to see that grow … another 10 kids would be nice — we were at 32 this morning,” said Matta, who mentioned 42 on the volleyball list, 31 in boys soccer and 28 in girls soccer. “The one I’d like to see grow is football … we need young, big kids to be able to field a JV team and have an offensive line.”

Although Monday was the first day of official practice as defined by the Oregon School Activities Association, most high school sports programs offer some sort of voluntary workouts over the summer, which includes an open weight room. Many teams also participate in a summer camp.

PHS players run through a drill during Monday night’s football practice.(Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Perhaps the most noteworthy change among OSAA rules is the out-of-season practice model that can now be used by 4A schools. In the past, coaches had to adhere to the “rule of two” — which allowed coaches to instruct a maximum of two athletes in a day out of season.

“Under the new model, starting today, the out-of-season winter and spring team sports are closed for six weeks and all they can do is conditioning, if they want to,” Matta said. “After the six-week period, it’s an open period where you can have 30 kids and give instruction and run them through the drills (for up to six hours per week). The only thing you can’t do is play games.”

Naturally, with a smaller school like Philomath, many athletes are involved in more than one sport, so there is overlap.

“Our coaches have done a great job with communication with the out-of-season stuff … they all work well together,” Matta said. “They’ll continue to do that and talk about what they’re doing.”

The football and soccer teams will host jamborees again this year. In fact, the football jamboree will be perhaps the school’s biggest ever with eight schools signed up to participate, including four 5A teams and a school from Washington.

PHS girls soccer coach Mat Phelps talks to the team during a break at a Monday evening practice. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Season openers for the various teams include soccer on Sept. 1 vs. Marist Catholic with the boys on the road and the girls at home, football on Sept. 2 vs. Crook County, cross-country on Sept. 3 at the Ultimook Race and volleyball on Sept. 6 vs. Gladstone.

The dance/drill team and the cheer squad also had workouts to prepare for their first competitions.

Heading into this academic year, Philomath High has continued to waive participation fees, something that started during the pandemic to incentivize students to compete on a team. Studies have shown that students participating in extracurricular activities often have a positive experience in the classroom.

In other news related to fall sports, the volleyball and dance programs are under new head coaches. Denee Newton stepped down leading the Warrior spikers with Philomath bringing in Autumn Hilberg. In dance/drill, longtime coach Lori Haslam moved on to a position with the Oregon State University program and  was replaced by Stefanie Larson.

Facility-related notes to mention include the underground sprinkler system that recently went in at Clemens Field. Matta said the grounds are still recovering from the install. And the cross-country course always requires preseason maintenance with coaches and volunteers doing some work on Sunday.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.