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During an intense offensive attack, senior Braedyn McNeely controls the ball in the right corner and then finds senior teammate Alivia Pittman over the middle on a play that ends with a goal.

The Warriors celebrate the accomplishment while jogging back to midfield to prepare for the game to resume. But something is missing. The bleachers are empty. A loud silence hangs in the air.

The latest COVID-19 risk levels that went into effect Friday remained extreme for Benton County. In fact, Benton is one of only five counties in the entire state tagged with the extreme risk, which remains until at least March 11.

(By the way, neighboring Linn County is now in the moderate risk category and Lincoln County has dropped all the way down into the lower risk designation. That sure makes Benton’s risk level even more difficult to accept).

This all means that spectators will not be allowed at PHS games to open the season. The boys and girls soccer games — which will be played at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis — can have no more than 50 at the field. That includes game participants, coaches, officials and event staff.

If Benton County drops down into high risk after March 11, the maximum gathering size increases to 75. At moderate, it doubles to 150.

Said PHS Athletic Director Tony Matta: “Even if you got to moderate, you’d still have to be very selective — like it might be one parent for one player … but we’re so far away.”

The same restrictions apply to cross-country — meets in Benton County anyway. However, the Warriors will not compete in any in-county competitions. The Paul Mariman Invitational in Philomath was canceled, although that didn’t have anything to do with COVID restrictions but because the course is unfortunately in poor condition.

The Oregon School Activities Association’s guidelines for football limit field capacity to 120 total people with the plan book specifically prohibiting spectators.

“Football’s 120 — that’s everybody — the coaches up in the booth for both teams, everybody on the sidelines, the chain crew, the officials,” Matta said.

In football, the Oregon West Conference broke down the 120 this way: Each team gets 50 people and game personnel account for the remaining 20.

As for volleyball, don’t even ask. The extreme risk doesn’t allow for any competition in the gym and as a result, the Warriors’ schedule shows all matches on the road.

It’s a tough pill to swallow for parents who can’t watch their kids play. It’s especially tough for parents of seniors. The silver lining that you have to remember is at least the students are getting a chance to compete. A couple of months ago, it seemed like they may not have the opportunity.

Several schools have been working with the NFHS Network to live-stream games. Links to the broadcasts will reportedly be posted with OSAA schedules. As of Saturday night, no Philomath games appeared on the live-stream list.

Matta said Philomath High is in the process of getting a Pixellot camera to set up NFHS live-streaming.

“Once you get the camera — that doesn’t take very long — but it’s on their end,” he said. “They have so many schools that you could be a month out before the technician syncs your cameras.”

Matta hopes to set up live-streaming through Facebook Live but specific details on that happening still seemed to be up in the air when we chatted a few days ago.

The OSAA did not issue media passes to newspapers and media outlets for this season, so we’re on our own getting into games. I have received assurance from PHS that I’ll be able to provide coverage.

I won’t be able to attend every game, but I’ll do my best to bring you stories and photos. From the way the schedules currently appear, I should be covering a girls soccer game on Thursday at Crescent Valley. And over the weekend, a football game against Glide down in Cottage Grove appeared on the schedule for this coming Saturday.

(Brad Fuqua is publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He can be reached at News@PhilomathNews.com).

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