Operating school programs during COVID is an uncertain endeavor in the best of circumstances. The latest wrinkle for cross country teams on the peninsula is a scramble to get to the Region III Tournament in Kodiak this weekend, with most Kenai and Soldotna runners missing out on what would have been their last meet of the year.
Several teams had planned to take the ferry Tustumena from Homer to Kodiak for the region meet, Oct. 1 and 2. But the Alaska Department of Transportation canceled all Tustumena sailings until Oct. 5, citing crew shortages. Kenai Central coach Todd Boonstra heard the news in the middle of the Borough meet last weekend in Seward.
“So we didn’t even know going into the meet that, ‘Hey, this is going to be our last race.’ So, yeah, it’s unfortunate,” Boonstra said. “They’ve been working really hard and running really well and looking to end the season there but unfortunately got cut short for them.”
Varsity squads are eligible to move on to the state meet next weekend but for JV runners, the Regions race was supposed to be the last of the year. Teams from the peninsula and anchorage had to scramble for plane tickets and there weren’t enough available. So teams are limited to taking just their varsity squads.
Krista Arthur, SoHi’s coach, says the kids who can’t go are disappointed but taking it in stride.
“They were bummed but, you know, I’m telling you, the kids nowadays are pretty resilient,” Arthur said. “It feels like they get bad news all the time and so they’re sort of used to it, which is really kind of a bad thing to say. I’ve had two varsity runners in the past week and a half that, due to sickness and then a close contact, they can’t even go. So, that’s just kind of the world we’re living in right now.”
The travel change is increasing costs significantly. Not only the price of short-notice plane tickets but flight schedules worked out such that Kenai and SoHi have to spend longer in Kodiak. Arthur says SoHi fundraised enough this year to cover the trip. Kenai, though, has had a challenging time raising money this year.
“We had a fundraiser lined up with the volleyball team,” Boonstra said. “They had at a home game a couple weeks ago, we were going to do a dessert silent auction during the games. And at the last minute, the team that was coming canceled, I think due to COVID. So our fundraising idea didn’t pan out, so that was not nice for us. We decided to make a little money there but we didn’t get that opportunity.”
Boonstra estimates the Kodiak trip will cost $6,000. The team is asking the community for help.
“It’s a lot cheaper to go by boat than by air,” he said. “It just increased our costs and we were just reaching out to see if we could get some help for our athletes to get there. … I know it’s a lot. But anything can help and would be greatly appreciated.”
Arthur says the community has been great in supporting local teams, but it never gets easier.
“A lot of these small businesses do help our programs, we really, really appreciate it,” she said. “… But, yeah, it’s just hard. It’s just getting harder and harder, you know?”
One potential silver lining — the marine forecast is calling for winds up to 45 knots and seas as high as 17 feet on the way to Kodiak this weekend.
“We were scheduled for a 14-hour cruise and then, of course, you never know what the seas will bring. So, yeah, I guess that’s one positive thing to look at is we’re not going to get seasick,” Boonstra said.
Anyone wanting to donate to Kenai Central’s cross country team travel to Kodiak can drop off donations at the school office.