Jackson High School soccer hopefuls stretch before scrimmages in the school gym due to poor air quality in Mill Creek on August 21, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jackson High School soccer hopefuls stretch before scrimmages in the school gym due to poor air quality in Mill Creek on August 21, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Unhealthy air forces local prep teams to practice indoors

Practices for all fall sports are underway, but many teams moved indoors due to smoke blanketing the region.

Wildfire smoke blanketing Snohomish County and much of the state has pushed many local prep sports teams indoors for the beginning of fall practice.

At least several local football teams held their season-opening practices inside last Wednesday because of poor air quality from raging wildfires across British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest.

Air quality improved later in the week and over the weekend, but the smoky conditions returned in time for Monday’s season-opening practices for all other fall sports.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the air quality index Monday afternoon in Everett was measured at 165 on a 1-to-500 scale, meaning the air was considered unhealthy and all individuals should “reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.” The air quality index topped 170 in Snohomish County on Tuesday.

Everett and Marysville school districts were among those that moved all practices indoors Monday afternoon and Tuesday. Edmonds School District also moved all practices indoors Tuesday.

“We’re just sharing gym space as best we can,” Edmonds School District athletic director Julie Stroncek said. “It’s a logistical nightmare, but coaches are being flexible and doing the best they can with sharing that space … and adjusting their practice times.”

Jackson High School soccer hopefuls try out for the teams in the school gym due to poor air quality in Mill Creek on August 21, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Jackson High School soccer hopefuls try out for the teams in the school gym due to poor air quality in Mill Creek on August 21, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

“It’s been very challenging on the programs and the school facilities to get the kids the practices they need,” Everett School District athletic director Robert Polk said.

Marysville Getchell was among the local football teams confined to practicing indoors Monday and Tuesday, as well as last Wednesday. With his team limited by the amount of physical training that can be done inside, Chargers coach Davis Lura said they spent more time doing walkthroughs and talking X’s and O’s.

“We just try to really work on our cerebral part of the game,” Lura said. “We’ve done a lot of chalk talk and just walked through stuff, where usually we’d be full speed and hitting and trying to simulate game-type situations.”

Unable to train outside Monday, Jackson boys tennis coach David Hutt spent most of his team’s first practice in a classroom teaching court strategies and positioning. The Timberwolves were inside again Tuesday.

“The kids are itching to go (outside),” he said. “They want to get out on the court.”

The poor air quality forced the Edmonds-Woodway and Lake Stevens cross country teams to get a bit creative with their indoor practices Tuesday morning.

Edmonds-Woodway held a short practice consisting of its regular yoga session, some skipping drills and a small amount of running in the gym.

Lake Stevens shot free throws during its practice and ran lines on the missed shots. The Vikings then did abdominal workouts before wrapping up with a game of dodgeball.

“We had fun,” said Lake Stevens coach Cliff Chaffee, whose team practiced in the North Lake Middle School gym because of renovations to the high school. “We turned it into a team-building, enjoyable day. (We) would rather have been out running, but it wasn’t like we didn’t get anything done. We accomplished something.”

Students gather to hear their assigned basketball court to tryout for the soccer teams in the gym at Jackson High School due to poor air quality in Mill Creek on August 21, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Students gather to hear their assigned basketball court to tryout for the soccer teams in the gym at Jackson High School due to poor air quality in Mill Creek on August 21, 2018. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Chaffee pointed out that eastern Washington cross country teams had to deal with similar issues from wildfire smoke last year during the early portion of the season.

“Last year the east side of the state was just totally shut down in the early practices, and they (still) did quite well by the time (the state cross-country meet) came,” he said. “The top kids have been getting ready all summer — so this is a setback, but it’s not the end of the world.”

First-year Everett football coach David Coldiron — whose team has spent three days indoors since practices began last week — said he’s grateful Everett High School has the indoor facilities to accommodate multiple sports teams.

“I’ve been at other places in Southern California where we had to go through this before with the wildfires and air quality,” he said. “There’s been times where we’ve been left out and they’re like, ‘You can’t have the gym, coach. Somebody else has got it. Tomorrow will be your day.’ So we’d lose out on a whole day of practice.”

Still, there’s no substitute for practicing outside on a football field.

“We’re a little behind,” Coldiron said. “We really want that air quality to get better, and I’m pretty sure every other coach is the same way.”

The wildfire smoke even impacted practices for a pair of local girls swim teams. Edmonds-Woodway and Meadowdale were scheduled to practice at outdoor pools Tuesday, but instead were limited to out-of-water conditioning drills at their respective high schools, Stroncek said.

The air quality is forecast to improve Wednesday, but local athletic directors and coaches will be closely monitoring the air quality index before making any determinations.

“It’s wait and see,” Stroncek said. “Even if we have to do limited-intensity practices, we will try to get outside when the air quality index number indicates it’s out of the unhealthy range. … We just monitor it every morning and afternoon and make the decision as timely as we can.”

“It just really depends, because we don’t know,” Marysville School District athletic director Greg Erickson said. “We’re at the mercy of Mother Nature.”

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