Lincoln sports are back as the pandemic recedes

Lincoln sports are back as the pandemic recedes

Joseph Gallivan, Friends of Lincoln
For LHSAA magazine, spring 2021

Lincoln Athletics was pushed back until 2021 because of COVID19. While the summer and fall was a time of uncertainty, with no schedules and declining numbers at practices, sports burst back on the scene in March 2021 as the worst of the pandemic seemed to have passed. By then, students had learned to run the 5,000 meters, sprint the length of a football field and slide into home base with a cloth mask on, and fist bumps and personal water bottles replaced the usual physical closeness of team sports.

We talked to three coaches and a player about coming out of the pandemic and returning to the joy of playing.

Eric Dettman, the Lincoln cross country coach, has some excellent runners this year.

They started practicing in late October, 2020 and competition started in March competing in four different divisions.

His best runner, Mateo Althouse, can do 5,000 meters in 14’45” and his best girl, Kendall York, in 17’30”. (The official world records in the 5,000 meters on a track are Joshua Cheptegei with 12’35” for men and Letesenbet Gidey with 14’06” for women.)

“All of our kids are required to wear masks when they're racing, but they have risen to the occasion and been pretty resilient in that matter,” says Dettman.

“I'm more concerned, as we get into the spring, it becomes warm, and then that mask becomes wet. And then it's almost like you're it's almost as if you're waterboarding yourself.” He has worked out in a mask with the kids and knows it not easy.

“It's just harder to breathe out of it. But kids are running faster than I thought they would. I think masks might slow it down 30 seconds

Dettman says the mood is great. “We typically have about 150 kids on the team and we have about 60, 65 kids right now. Some parents just don't feel comfortable with their kids being out here. Some kids didn't do much during COVID. We tried to be really proactive and getting kids out and doing virtual stuff, but that's just not for everybody. And some kids really struggle with that, ‘I'm so far behind now and I don't even want to try to come back.’ Some seniors are just like, I'm just over it like it's my senior year.’”

Other sports, and other schools, he says, are down two-thirds, too. It’s COVID-19.

“I just think that kids just got into the routine of not doing anything.”

A typical meet is a race against a handful of other teams. Teams add up their placements and, like in golf, the school with the lowest score wins. There used to be seven runners on a team, but not they are allowing more runners, and still only scoring the top five. (15 points would be a sweep.) Races are 5,000 meters (3.3 miles) and are run around parkland or a golf course, not a track. Volunteers mark the route with flags, paint and tape.

Portland has great running places but they are hard to get to from Lincoln.

Dettman’s runners train at Washington Park and on the waterfront downtown. They need to run there to start running.

With eight meets instead other usual 10 to 12, April 10 is the final weekend for cross country.

“We'll certainly be in the hunt. On the guys side, it's between Franklin and Lincoln. And then on the girls side is between Ida B. Wells-Barnett (formerly Wilson High) and Lincoln.”

Coaches may be able to see the long arc of the athlete’s career, and missing 25 percent of a high school career may or not hurt. The young athletes, however, feel the loss too, but they have a natural joy and enjoyment of their sport and team mates that keeps them going.

Dettman ran in college and tries to give the kids the best experience.

“I take a lot of pride in giving them something that looks and feels really official. If it's just a painted line on the ground. that doesn't feel as cool as doing a bunch of flagging out and a big finish line. So, we really try to put an emphasis on doing that for the kids.”

Lincoln Girls Varsity Softball coach Page Mesher (Lincoln class of 1980) told LHSAA magazine that “Softball has been one of the most unique sports at Lincoln High School because we are the nomad sport. In the last four years we’ve played home games or practiced in 17 different places.”

Lincoln won’t have a sports field until fall 2023 when the new school is finished – and even then, it won’t include softball.

For this season, which starts March 22, the home field will be Hamilton Field, by Bridlemile Elementary. Fans will be allowed, and Mesher wants former players to come and say hello and to inspire the team.

There’s hope though.

“We are still without a home but we are waiting for permission to build a youth softball, youth baseball and a varsity softball complex at East Sylvan.”

In spring 2020 the girls practiced softball for three weeks before the season was cancelled by COVID-19 a week before the first game. There were five seniors who never got a varsity game. “That hurts. They were five great girls and they can never get that back.”

Numbers are down. There is only one team instead of two. Two years ago, they had 24 players, but in 2021, only 12 to 14. “We will not be cutting anyone.”

Why did some not come back to softball?

“Girls have moved on to other activities. I understand it. Nobody has said, ‘I'm not playing because of the pandemic,’ but it's all contributing.”

He adds they might be able to get a couple of players from soccer and basketball.

After COVID-19, Mesher has his work cut out since there is “a generation of girls that did not play softball. It’s a great sport but it’s a very challenging sport. It's not a sport that you can just pick up at age 13, 14 or 15. So we have to start in our youth level and build from there, make it fun, make it competitive, make it a learning experience.”

When girls play little league and see the varsity team’s photo on the wall of the dug out, they grow up and want to play varsity.

“I believe having a destination facility will be tremendous if we can get it, a gamer changer for our sport,” said Mesher.

Volleyball player Jasmine Sells, a senior, is set to go to George Washington University in Missouri in the fall of 2021, partly for its fine academics and partly to keep playing competitive volleyball.

Sells plays outside hitter for Lincoln and for the club JVA in Beaverton. Although she plays tennis for Lincoln, this is her favorite sport. “We were through the roof this year when we heard we were having a season,” said Sells.

Volleyball began in March, and her last game as a student will be after spring break. She turns 18 in April.

In the long off-season she worked out a lot, “Volleyball is very much my escape. So, if I'm having a bad day, I can go play, I can work on something and my teammates will work together to change my mood.”

They wear masks and wipe down balls constantly, but that doesn’t bother her.

“It's not necessarily a cardio sport, so it's not as big of a hit to have to wear a mask. I'm so happy to be back, it makes it world of difference. I’ve played since sixth grade and I just love the sport.”

Sells finds it both character building and relaxing.

“Most of my girls were able to just let loose and have some fun. I’m also a very competitive person, so I can have fun and be competitive at the same time.”

Lincoln football coach (and math teacher) Jeremy Johnson was not expecting a season that starts in cold weather hand transitions into the warm, but he’ll take it. This March to May football season looked like it might not happen until February, and even then, ice storms disrupted the first week of practice.

“High school kids use sports and other extracurricular activities as their way of developing identity,” Johnson said. “Losing that outlet is a very challenging for many kids around the world.”

He started virtual meetups in spring 2020 and the players hoped to have a football team in August. “Last year, it was just the constant hurry up and wait.” They kept up the virtual meetings for a year, when practices were not allowed. Finally, they heard in December that practices would begin in mid-February, 2021.

Johnson was glad that PPS was “very well organized, it had people that got all the paperwork done.”

Saturday, March 6 was the first game, against Jefferson at Wells-Barnet High School. The final game is April 10, part of a one-game culminating week, like a bowl game.

“There's a myriad of COVID protocols. We all wear masks, in competition or on the sidelines. Referees and coaches are constantly encouraging kids to pull them up, they do understand that they fall down.”

Numbers are down for football too.

This year there are 50 registered kids playing football, after a forecast of 75. There’s a varsity and a junior varsity team, as it has been for the last three years. Football takes a lot of preparation, both tactics and physical, they can’t just pick up and play. With no field, a lot of kids are over 40 minutes from practice. Parents have helped with carpooling. “They make it happen, they schedule everything in advance.”

The mood is still good.

“For the kids that are there every day they're excited, seeing each other. They love being able to joke around with their buddies. And there’s the lesson now, it doesn't always go our way.”

Johnson hopes there will be an LHS homecoming football game in fall 2021, probably at Ida B. Wells.

“If I had my druthers we’d have it at Lewis and Clark College on their football field, because they have a really nice stadium. But there are a lot of wrinkles that would have to be ironed out to make that happen.”

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