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Breathing uneasy: local ADs track air quality

Experience has prepared Patrick Grady for the potential inconveniences caused to high school athletics by the present weather conditions in the Rogue Valley.

As conditioning and team practices for prep fall sports begin to commence, the Medford School District has set up contingency procedures. Last week there was a moratorium on all school organized outdoor activities but on Monday teams can begin conditioning and drills. Official team practices start Aug. 13.

As a rookie athletic director at North Medford High last fall, Grady was faced with the problems of shuffling a school’s athletic schedule because of the smoky conditions caused by fires.

This year the Medford School District is dealing with a double whammy — poor air quality and searing temperatures.

“It’s one of those things you have to deal with living where we live,” said Grady, who became Black Tornado AD after serving as dean of students at Hedrick Middle School. “It’s similar to what we had to do last fall, finding where the clean air is to keep contests going.”

Medford School District athletic director Amy Tiger held a meeting last week for all the high school fall head coaches.

“With what happened last year, we are a little better prepared and understand more about air quality,” said Tiger. “We’re going to follow OSAA (Oregon School Activities Association) guidelines. We’re not going to put anyone outside for any activity unless we’re in a moderate or better range.”

The OSAA has created guidelines in consultation with the Oregon Health Authority. The OSAA has procedures on its website concerning heat and air quality status.

Districts and schools receive an OSAA heat index notification if levels reach unsafe conditions. There’s a set of guidelines if the temperature reaches 95 degrees or higher that will alter or eliminate outdoor practices or games. The OSAA uses a service “Weather Underground” to determine safe levels.

Also there are air quality guidelines. Schools are tasked with monitoring the Air Quality Index (AQI) throughout the day and during events. The OSAA uses the DEQ app “Oregon Air” and the EPA website “Air Now” to keep track of conditions.

Tiger, a former head girls basketball coach at South Medford High, doubles as district staff and student safety coordinator.

“My job is to monitor the heat and air indexes,” said Tiger. “Different coaches won’t make individual decisions. The district will determine.

“Different times throughout the day, I’ll be checking and sending out communication so we’ll be following the same protocols,” explained Tiger. “We’re going to error on the side of safety. Even air particulates you can’t see can be dangerous.”

Tiger says schedules for moving practices and conditioning indoors have been set up. All sports can have informal sessions but the priority for indoor space is being given to the fall sports — football, boys and girls soccer, cross country and volleyball. The school’s bands are also covered by the heat and air indexes.

“We’re fortunate we have a lot of facilities,” said Tiger. “We’ve worked out schedules for the next month.”

South Medford athletic director Tim Rupp says not only do they have to account for varsity teams but JV and freshman squads add to the numbers of students that are affected.

“Not only are we dealing with everything like football and soccer but the band does things outside this time of year,” said Rupp. “Everybody understands and has been very cooperative so everybody gets the time and place they need. It has a drastic impact on what we can do.”

Rupp is looking for bigger indoor spaces, like the Medford National Guard Armory, or busing teams to places outside the area that are not dealing with air quality issues.

Grady knows what that’s like from last fall. North Medford opened the season on the road at Fortuna, Calif., but its home opener against Shasta High a week later was moved to Redding, Calif. North didn’t play at home until the fourth game of the season.

“I’ve been on the phone quite a bit trying to be prepared,” said Grady. “We want it to be as seamless as we can.

“We’ll have lots of information on the district and school websites, Facebook and peachjar,” said Grady.”We’re trying different avenues so we can communicate with everybody.”

Peachjar is a digital flyer Medford schools use to distribute announcements.

Both ADs say the situation is similar to spring sports. In the spring, rain can especially impact baseball and softball games and tennis matches.

“You work hour-by-hour and day-by-day,” said Rupp. “It makes it a challenge for sure.”

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or fsilow@rosebudmedia.com

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