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Devin Bell (21), Zach Wiggins (behind) and the La Grande boys basketball team defeated Baker City in February 2020 to win the Greater Oregon League district tournament. Oregon’s two-week freeze to curb the spread of COVID-19 also put a halt on traditional winter sports practices.

The Nov. 18 to Dec. 2 statewide “freeze” designed to slow the recent surge in COVID-19 cases stopped high school sports practices before they had a chance to get started.

The last of three month-long “mini-sessions” was scheduled to start Nov. 17.

This session was for traditional winter sports — basketball, wrestling and swimming.

When Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced the two-week freeze, the restrictions didn’t include high school sports.

But on Nov. 18, the day the freeze started, the Oregon Health Authority stated schools will have to stop indoor sports, including basketball and wrestling.

“I was disappointed, I felt that the district had done a great job in keeping kids safe and I would argue that our school district is probably one of the safer places for our kids to be,” said Buell Gonzales Jr., athletic director for the Baker School District.

Pendleton High School Athletic Director Mike Somnis wasn’t surprised by the OHA’s announcement.

“I think the signs were kind of pointing that way,” Somnis said.

Not all schools will be affected in quite the same way.

La Grande High School, for instance, already delayed its winter sports mini-session.

“We had already decided to wait until after Thanksgiving week to start up anyway, so we put our winter sports on delay next week until we got back from Thanksgiving just to see what the numbers are like then,” said Darren Goodman, La Grande’s athletic director.

Athletes now have to return to home workouts.

Goodman said he doesn’t intend to set up an online conditioning program, based on the idea that the freeze will end Dec. 2 and schools can resume practices during the mini-session.

“If the weather is decent we can do some conditioning outside but we aren’t going to do online conditioning for the sports,” Goodman said.

At Baker High School, meanwhile, coaches will be meeting online with athletes during the freeze.

“We moved to a virtual format where the coaches will connect with kids individually and provide direction and provide an opportunity to connect,” Gonzales said. “That is going to continue as long as we are in this freeze.”

In Pendleton, Somnis said indoor sports, such as basketball, will transition to outdoor training with the hope that a regular winter sports season will start Dec. 28. He said other sports might also have outdoor workouts.

The Oregon School Activities Association executive board is slated to meet Dec. 7 to decide whether to move ahead with that plan.

“If any coaches want to do anything outside under the certain guidelines for outside conditioning they can, I know our tennis program intends to meet to have the kids do a little running,” Somnis said. “I think boys basketball may look into using the track to get a little conditioning in.”

He said the unexpected interruption in practices was particularly disappointing because Pendleton athletes had been taking advantage of the opportunities during the mini-sessions throughout the fall.

“The last 10 weeks have been great, our weight training classes, our dance teams and our volleyball team have been able to use the gym for workouts, conditioning and practices and we haven’t had a single issue,” Somnis said.

Though the two-week freeze is a setback, Goodman is steadfast in pursuing the main objective — maintaining responsibility, getting back to playing sports and above all keeping everyone safe.

“We all want sports back, we all want the athletes to have those experiences, but we also have to be responsible and if the numbers are high right now then let’s protect our kids,” Goodman said.

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