1,600-meter run

From left, Ketchikan High School's Jenna Walker, Anneliese Hiatt and Morgan Elerding start in the 1,600-meter run on April 24 at Esther Shae Field. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Alex Pennino knows a lot can happen in 24 hours.

So enjoying the fact that Ketchikan High School’s track and field team still is currently scheduled to compete at the Region V meet this weekend in Juneau can wait — at least for the time being.

“When I get on the plane tomorrow, I’ll celebrate,” Kayhi’s track and field coach said after practice on Wednesday. “Anything can happen between now and then. Twenty-four hours is a long time.”

It’s been one long, drawn out ‘red-X’ of a season for Kayhi’s squad — and Ketchikan High School athletics, in general.

Following a surge of the novel coronavirus in late April within Kayhi’s population, and throughout the entire town, athletics have been on hold.

The Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center bumped the town’s community risk level to Level 3 on May 4, and was forced to move it to Level 4 on May 11 — Ketchikan’s highest possible level of risk for COVID-19. It was the first time the EOC moved to Level 4 since the pandemic began in spring 2020.

When the surge of COVID-19 cases broke out in late April, Kayhi’s track and field team had only competed in one meet — it’s home meet on April 23-24.

Kayhi started the season off on the right foot, setting 60 personal records that meet, as well as a school record in the girls’ 4x200 relay, which was accomplished by Carlee Zartman, Ada Odden, Rachelle Biggs and Rachel Knight.

But then the season came to an abrupt halt, beginning a stop-and-go aspect to the year, like bad bumper-to-bumper traffic.

“We canceled before our Sitka trip, which was the week after our home meet,” Pennino said. “I think we’ve gotten a total of five, maybe, practices in (since then).

“They’d have practice on a Monday, and then have to shut down for the rest of the week. So we were kind of on that schedule for a little bit.”

That herky-jerky motion to the season has caused some on the squad to bow out, unable to finish the year due to attrition.

Kayhi started the season with about 30 kids. Pennino said about 27 or 28 will be traveling to Juneau this weekend. In previous years, Kayhi has had around 40 on its roster.

“Track is a sport where we have a lot of people who are fairly new to it, and the learning curve is pretty steep,” he said. “Missing all those practices, and the meets, too, they’re not used to competing.”

That said, Kayhi’s girls’ squad will have participants in just about every event this weekend.

“(They’ll) have the lanes filled up,” Pennino said. “The boys’ team is a little thin, kind of like they were at the beginning of the year. But they’ll put up a good fight (in Juneau).”

And at this point in the game, “a good fight” is all Pennino can ask for.

“I (feel) bad for the kids, especially my seniors,” he said. “They had their season lost last year, and some of them were trying to accomplish some pretty big goals this year, and they looked like they (were) going to lose (this year), too. But I’m just glad we get to go to regions and participate.”

The last time Kayhi participated in a Region V track and field meet, this year’s seniors were sophomores.

“There’s only a handful of them,” Pennino said. “There aren’t too many of them. You can probably count them on one hand — how many kids have competed in regions.”

The meet in Juneau will be more strict than what the majority of Kayhi’s squad is used to.

“They run their meet a little more like the state meet, so they’re a little more strict on uniform infractions, and their rules and everything,” Pennino said. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to get adjusted to that.”

Pennino had his squad out on the track at Esther Shea Field a couple times this week — counting for two of those five practices since late April — as the team prepares for the Region V meet. They have been able to take advantage of the favorable weather.

“We’ve had a couple pretty good days of practice this week,” he said. “A lot of them were pretty diligent trying to work out on their own. We had a lot of kids work on the field events, up (at Esther Shea Field) doing some shotput and discus by themselves. We had some going up to the pit and jumping, and getting together and working out.

“But (it’s) kind of difficult not having the whole team — the coaches there and everything like that.”

Region V preliminaries will begin Friday afternoon, with finals for the two-mile, high jump, shot put and triple jump also on Friday.

Finals for the rest of the track and field events will be Saturday, along with the relay competitions.

But regardless of how the team scores wind up — or a team’s time as it passes the finish line — just being able to compete together, and participate in something enjoyable can be considered a victory these days.

A win, in that regard, is a feeling that has been missing for the better part of two years for this bunch — and all athletes of spring sports.

But first, they have to make their plane.

“I never thought I’d say it, but I really miss being out in the rain on the track, with the wind blowing,” Pennino said. "It was kind of a void in my spring. I’ve fished more than I ever did this spring. But I would’ve rather been out on the track with the kids. You could tell the kids were getting pretty frustrated with it.”