Bad air quality forces high school athletes to practice indoors, days before season begins

Football players with Tigard High School practice in The Plex Wednesday due to the smoky conditions outside. (Photo: Genevieve Reaume/KATU News)

Because of the smoky skies, high school athletes are getting forced off the field and inside.

"We thought we were done with it last week, and we weren't,” Tom Rothenberger, the Jesuit High School head cross country and track coach, said. “So, we've just had to be adaptive."

Cross country, soccer and football seasons officially start in just days. It’s the second year in a row many teams have had to find an indoor place to practice because of the haze.

"We hope it's not the new normal," Rothenberger said.

"It’s been crazy," Craig Ruecker, the Tigard High School head football coach, said. "We have not practiced on our own home field but just a few times."

Coaches say, according to the OSAA rules, if the air quality index (AQI) is 100 or higher, all teams need to practice indoors.

For many, that means soccer practices inside school basketball gyms, but for others, they’ve taken different measures.

"Football teams, soccer teams, cross country teams coming here," Brian Childs, the owner of The Plex, an indoor sports arena in Southwest Portland, said.

Childs says it’s been a very busy few days, with multiple teams and high schools coming in to rent a few hours of field space at a time. He says, first, Beaverton reached out to him, then Jesuit, then Tigard and finally Wilson.

"I feel like I’m the water boy around here," Childs joked.

Having to move indoors just days before competitions begin is definitely not an ideal situation. It makes it extra challenging to build a skill base, but it’s not a choice. The sports season will start, even if the fire season doesn't stop.

"I mean, whatever you can get done, ya know?" Max Lavey, a sophomore at Jesuit High School and member of the Junior Varsity 2 soccer team, said.

"We get by,” Isaiah Porter, a Tigard High School senior and defensive end on the football team, said. “We’re a hardworking team and just willing to do whatever to have a good season."

All these teams are hoping they can get back outside and onto their home turf as quickly as possible. The Plex says it has space for the teams to come back Thursday, but after that it has to get back to its regularly scheduled business.

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