For good or bad, authorities handled high school sports differently in years past.
I tried to go to the Lake Oswego at West Linn girls soccer game this week.
I tried for two days.
I was not successful.
The game, originally scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 18, was postponed due to poor air quality. According to the IQAir.com website, the air in West Linn on Tuesday was rated “Unhealthy,” with a U.S. air quality index rating of 158.
The game was rescheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 19 and … it was postponed again due to poor air quality. According to IQAir.com, the air in West Linn on Wednesday was again rated “Unhealthy,” this time with a U.S. AQI rating of 155.
Then, on Thursday, Oct. 20, the game of the day for me was Tigard at Lakeridge girls soccer. But like the two days that preceded it, the air quality sucked — there was an AQI rating of 158 in Lake Oswego — and the contest was postponed.
In pointing this out, by the way, I’m not taking a shot at any of the schools that postponed events, nor at any of their coaches or athletes. Based on guidelines issued by the Oregon School Activities Association — the governing body for Oregon high school sports — those air quality ratings necessitated the postponements.
According to OSAA guidelines, an AQI rating of 151-200 means that “All outdoor activities (practice and competition) shall be canceled or moved to an area with a lower AQI. Move practices indoors, if available. Be aware that, depending on a venue’s ventilation system, indoor air quality levels can approach outdoor levels.”
So what’s this all about? Why write about postponements?
It’s just to point out some fun facts about history, about the world as it is now and how it has changed since the dark ages when I was a kid.
Now, this won’t shock anyone who’s met me, nor will it surprise anyone who’s seen my white-haired visage on the sidelines or the mugshot that accompanies my emails, but as it turns out, I’m not the youngest sportswriter on the block.
So when I look back to my days as a competitive athlete, I have to look way, way back.
In this case, let me take you back to my senior year at St. Helens High School. It was the 1979-80 school year, Jimmy Carter was president, the U.S. economy was in recession and “Three’s Company” was one of the hottest shows on television.
The St. Helens football team (I was not a member) reached the state quarterfinals in the old AA classification. Our basketball team was lousy and got eliminated from state playoff consideration in the Cowapa League playoffs.
But in the spring season, we could play baseball. The year before, competing at the state’s biggest classification, the mighty Lions won a share of the Coast Valley League title.
And in the spring of ’80, we were even better.
St. Helens won the Cowapa League title with just a single loss — this in an era when Cowapa teams faced each other once in the first round of league play, then played doubleheaders in the second round — then prepped for the state playoffs, ranked first in the state and carrying a 27-3 record.
A funny thing happened on the way to the postseason, however, and that’s the reason for today’s column. On Sunday, May 18, 1980 — just two days before our state playoff opener against Junction City — Mt. St. Helens blew up.
For those of you not in the know, the city of St. Helens — located on the banks of the Columbia River 30 miles north of Portland — was named for its excellent view of Mt. St. Helens. Mt. St. Helens is located in Southwest Washington, some 39 miles away from the city of St. Helens.
So when Mt. St. Helens — a long dormant volcano that sprang back to life in March of ’80 — erupted, those of us who lived in St. Helens noticed. Yakima, Washington, suffered far worse than St. Helens, but St. Helens was definitely impacted.
Ash from the volcano fell like soft gray snow. It built up on car windshields, filled gutters, blocked out the sun and turned what would have been a sunny, spring day into a weird, muted twilight.
Again you may ask — what’s this all about? Why write about postponements? Why write about a volcano that blew up 42 1/2 years ago?
Here’s the punchline.
Whereas today’s leaders postpone, cancel and delay sports events to protect athletes from poor air quality, the authorities of 1980 handled things differently.
Instead of cancellation, postponement or relocation, those in charge of high school sports back in 1980 basically said “Play ball.”
So on Monday, May 19, 1980, with much of our world draped in a half inch of ash or so, we went to school as normal, went to class as normal and went to baseball practice as normal.
In this case, my lasting memory of those late-May practices was this — coach Tom Niebergall hitting us grounders (I was a third baseman) with the baseball kicking up a rooster tail of ash along the way.
We practiced the day after the volcano erupted, we played two days later (winning 12-2 over Junction City) and just kept going from there, eventually winning a AA state championship with a 31-3 overall record.
Was it dangerous? Maybe. OK, probably. Was it a good idea? I’m not sure, but I guarantee you this — nobody on our team would have given away the chance at a state championship because of air quality.