PHS campus
Philomath High School athletics (Photo file by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

Since the beginning of the academic year, Philomath High’s coaches have not been paid. Those workouts that took place last fall were all voluntary — not just for the students, but for the coaches.

During a recent school board meeting, the issue of whether coaches should be paid at least a portion of their salary came up as a discussion point.

“We’re still working on that,” Athletic Director Tony Matta told me earlier this week. “Obviously as you start practices … those coaches will get paid.”

Matta’s referring to the start of official practices — Feb. 8 for football and Feb. 22 for soccer, cross-country and volleyball.

“By the time we get to May and June with the winter sports, three of those four are prohibited (wrestling, boys basketball, girls basketball) and I think we’re going to be OK to do those,” Matta added. “I feel like that coaches are going to get paid as we get to their seasons.”

Baseball, softball, tennis and track and field are currently scheduled to begin official practices on April 5. Basketball, swimming and wrestling launch into practices on May 10.

Of course, this could all change. Nothing’s ever set in stone with this pandemic situation. The OSAA executive committee is scheduled to meet on Feb. 8 so there might be some updates on the horizon.

But on the topic of paying coaches, Philomath is not alone in that approach. Matta said some schools in the Oregon West Conference, for example, went ahead and paid coaches something this past fall and early winter during the OSAA’s “Season 1” workouts.

“There were others like us where they’d just waiting to see if they actually have a season and what you did in Season 1 was all voluntary,” Matta said.

I’ve felt myself becoming optimistic recently about sports coming back later this month. Football and volleyball certainly have issues to work through but soccer and cross-country appear to be on solid ground now that the requirement that students must be on campus is no longer an issue.

On the OSAA website, there are games appearing on Philomath High schedules. Matta said work is still being done to get those finalized and up to date.

“We have a couple of things that we need to look into like how far in nonconference games are we interested in traveling,” Matta said.

That’s just one issue.

“Let’s say we’re in the yellow (COVID-19 risk level) and the team we’re supposed to play lives in a county where it’s extreme — what are the protocols there?” Matta said. “Obviously, if you’re playing there, they’re not going to have spectators, so what’s that like?”

As of Thursday, the boys soccer schedule showed a non league game on March 4 at Sisters against Mountain View. The girls soccer schedule shows its opener also on March 4 at home against Sisters.

Cross-country’s first meet is currently scheduled as March 6 at Toledo. A home meet has been scheduled for March 22, but coach Joe Fulton said it’s probably “up in the air” due to the poor condition of the course.

Volleyball currently shows a March 3 match at home against Cascade on March 3. Football, which is playing in 3A this year, shows a March 5 game at Scio.

As I said, volleyball and football have more hurdles to clear than the other sports.

The school bus piece is also part of the overall puzzle.

“Our transportation has said that they feel pretty confident about being able to transport,” Matta said. “We’re probably talking about instead of taking one bus to a soccer game, we take two.”

That way, students and coaches can spread out more on the bus and not be crammed together.

At this point, based on current risk levels and the corresponding restrictions, gatherings are limited to 50 people. That means fans may not be able to be in attendance and man, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

For example, using that 50 max, by the time you get the players, coaches, game officials and others associated with the game out there on the field, you’re running out of room. The school can’t exactly get involved in trying to choose who may be able to go to a game — so it’s either an all or none situation.

Matta said the effort to make the games available through the NFHS Network continues. And of course, if I’m at games, I’ll do the best I can to give you thorough game reports and shoot lots of photos.

Overall, I’d say there’s a positive feel in the air that we’re going to have high school athletics soon — at least soccer and cross-country. Just this morning, I had a short chat with a local who’s involved with the Mid-Valley Soccer Referees Association. He ended the conversation with “we’ll see you out on the pitch.”

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