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Carey and Wood River Given Green Light to Participate in Playoffs
After hours of debate and deliberation, Carey and Wood River will be able to compete in this year's playoffs
Published: 10/13/2020 4:15:14 PM

As athletes and coaches protested in the streets of Hailey, Idaho, the Blaine County School District voted 3-1 to allow Wood River and Carey High Schools to participate in this year's postseason. 

Previously, the odds of the Panthers and Wolverines playing in this year's playoffs looked grim, as the district followed stricter guidelines for assessing COVID-19 risk in its community.

During Tuesday's meeting, the school district approved a proposal submitted in part by Carey Activities Director Lee Cook. 

According to the proposal, should a school participating in a tournament event hosted at Carey or Wood River reside in a "red" county, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute, no spectators will be allowed. Masks and social distancing will be required during events hosted at both schools. 

Should Carey or Wood River travel to a school in red, fans will be "highly discouraged" to attend. 

Student-athletes at both schools will be required to quarantine for 14 days if their team matches up against a school in the orange or red categories, set by BSCD. BSCD's category for orange starts at 12.5 cases per 100,000 on a seven-day rolling average. 

If a student violates their quarantine, they will miss their next contest. A second offense will result in removal from the team. 

"This was perhaps the biggest win of the season for all state bound Blaine County teams. Hundreds of emails, petition signatures, phone calls and dozens of posters were made by students, coaches, parents and grandparents to make this happen," said Carey Head Football Coach Lane Kirkland. "Our football and volleyball players, parents, and our superfans masked up, spaced out,  and demonstrated on main street of Hailey for almost 3 hours during the board meeting.  There were a lot of honking horns and revving engines showing support during that time.  It was a roller coaster of a meeting to listen to that ended in a 3-1 vote approving the postseason proposal drawn up. Thanks to all and especially to our school board for supporting the student athletes of Blaine County."

Carey football, a team with high hopes of a fourth-straight state championship appearance, will close out the regular season against Dietrich Oct. 23. That matchup could be canceled if either team is in orange or red, since BSCD's adjusted guidelines only apply to the postseason. 

Below is our story leading up to Tuesday's school district meeting.

The COVID-19 pandemic has once again hit local high school sports, but this time in a unique and confusing way. 

In Blaine County, home to programs like Carey and Wood River, a 2020 postseason looks bleak ahead Tuesday’s school district board meeting. 

For Wood River and Carey, strict guidelines on mitigating COVID-19 transmission between communities has created a controversy in the county of 23,000 people. BCSD follows a different, stricter set of guidelines than other school districts across the state, which could potentially cancel the postseason for the Panthers and Wolverines.

BSCD follows the Harvard Global Health Institute’s matrix for assessing risk level. According to Carey Activities Director Lee Cook, the Harvard model was adopted by the school district early last summer, just as Carey and Wood River were planning their re-entry strategy for the 2020-2021 school year. 

But Lee argues the Harvard matrix isn’t suitable for small towns like Hailey and Ketchum. The Harvard model identifies 25 cases per 100,000 people as level its highest threat level "red."

As of Tuesday, the HGHI reported Blaine County recording 40 cases per 100,000 people on a seven-day moving average. However, the county actually reported an average of nine new cases. Comparing the nine new cases to a population of 100,000 gives the higher number that determines what color the county will be in for the next week. 

Lee, and many others in the BCSD, say that kind of math makes sense for larger communities, but for towns consisting of just a few thousand people, the numbers just don’t add up. 

“It is very strict and very unrealistic for rural communities,” Lee said. “It’s a solid sea of red. It’s just not applicable.”

According to the HGHI map, Blaine County has registered 762 cases since the start of the pandemic and six deaths. For comparison, Ada County has recorded 14,399 total cases and 153 deaths with 27 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day moving average, putting Ada in the red category under the Harvard model as well. 

But Ada County, as well as the rest of the state’s school districts, chooses not to follow the HGHI standard. Instead, Ada uses guidelines provided by Central District Health. If Blaine County were to follow the same standard as Central District Health, Blaine County would have found itself in the yellow category for the past 14 days. 

The frustration for Lee and others in the Blaine County community will reach a head Tuesday night, with a peaceful protest planned for outside the county school district office. The protest comes after two weeks of failed negotiations between schools and the district. 

Lee said he and Wood River Activities Director Kevin Stilling’s proposal for leniency on athletics was denied Oct. 2. According to Lee, their proposal would have made it possible for Carey and Wood River athletics to play other teams from other counties regardless of risk level. 

In return, the schools would essentially quarantine their athletes for the remainder of the postseason, cutting down their two days of in-person instruction to zero. 

But Lee and Stilling’s proposal was outright denied.

“That has essentially, shot us out of any tournament play, where we would match up against teams in a color below our threshold,” Lee said.

That’s where Lee’s and the Carey football team’s concerns are centered. The Panthers are in the midst of another record year, with hopes of a state championship appearance very much in doubt due to the health guidelines. 

Carey football is just one of two undefeated teams in the 1ADII classification, alongside Dietrich. The Panthers also outscore opponents by an average of 42 points per game, the best mark in their class. The Panthers have also won two of the last three state championships, and have made the title game each of the last three seasons.

“We have a great football team, and we’re going to have that stripped away from us,” Lee said. 

The Panthers already have made adjustments to the season to fit within BCSD’s guidelines. Carey and Wood River played a historic football game Sept. 25, with the Panthers trouncing their 4A cousin 40-16. The game featured an eight-man/11-man hybrid, with each school featuring their normal lineup when on offense. 

Carey is scheduled to play Castleford Friday. But with Blaine County in the red for now, that matchup could be in danger. The Panthers are also set to face the state’s only other undefeated 1ADII team in Dietrich Oct. 23. The marquee matchup could be the classification’s best of the year and a potential state championship preview. 

“We’re really hoping that last game is going to happen,” Lee said. "Trying to reschedule games and decide if you’re going to play or not play has been incredibly difficult. Not only is it your own school district, you’re looking at other schools and their county and trying to predict where they’re going to be a week ahead of time. It’s maddening."

Should Carey or Wood River wish to continue competition, the county will need its cases per 100,000 people to drop to at least 12.5.  

Blaine County School District meets Tuesday night to discuss possible future plans for athletics. will provide updates as they become available.

Members of the school district board could not be reached at this time. Their input on this story will be provided as soon as it becomes available.


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