High School sports in Oregon took a brutal hit during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Oregon Schools Activities Association data shows kids are not only returning to play, but participation is some of the highest ever.
“I think it was hard on us all mentally,” said La Pine senior football player Deakon Looney. “It was hard to get … the drive to go to practice every day while wearing masks and being worried about that at the same time worrying about football and all our games being pushed back or canceled even.”
While other athletes decided not to participate in athletics during the pandemic, Looney spent his first two years in high school playing football through the uncertainty that was COVID-19 and sports.
Statewide, high school participation numbers aren’t just rebounding from the pandemic but surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
According to the OSAA the number of kids participating in fall sports in the 2019-20 school year was around 37,000.
During the pandemic, those numbers dropped to 29,000 in 2020-21 and 35,000 last year.
This fall sports year, the number of athletes participating is over 38,000.
“The social distancing and the doing school from home,” said head La Pine football coach Brandon Tirrill. “I think that was taxing for them, where they are itching to come out be a part of the community, part of a school, and part of a team as well.”
La Pine High School is approaching its pre-pandemic athletic number at around 130.
Tirill and head volleyball coach Heather Calkins say they’ve both seen an increase in athletes in their programs, attributing the increase in numbers to the revitalization of youth sports programs in the community.
“Being able to get them out and playing together again, I think, is boosting that confidence, getting some girls coming out,” said Calkins. “Even some first-year girls that we’ve had this year, which is not super common. So, some first-year girls that didn’t get to play during those years are coming out and participating in the program.”
Crook County is following that statewide trend.
They have over 200 kids out for fall sports, the most in the last four years.
“The board chose to remove pay-to-participate fees from the middle school, and now the middle school numbers are booming, and now those numbers are coming every year to the high school,” said Athletic Director for Crook County High School Rob Bonner.