Nome's Jamie Yi crosses the finish line in White Mountain, 2017

Unlike some schools around the state, Nome Public Schools (NPS) and the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) are still planning to hold classes in-person this year. That also means that sports and other school activities are cleared to go. But students in Nome and the surrounding region will have to train and compete with some alterations and COVID-19 precautions in place.

For many rural Alaska students, travel by bush plane to nearby communities, and Anchorage, for competition is a hallmark of the sports experience. Many of those communities, including Nome, currently have quarantine requirements in effect, so Nome Public Schools’ Superintendent Jamie Burgess admits that makes traveling for sports unrealistic.

“We’re probably going to be having what we call ‘intramural sports’ for the majority of the year where we’ll have our kids competing against themselves, basically”.

That restriction could be loosened throughout the year. Students could then travel to other “green level” communities if Nome’s travel requirements are lifted and community spread of the coronavirus in the region remains low.

“Until quarantine requirements are lifted, we are not allowing students to travel outside of the region nor having teams come in. It is going to be very challenging for us to be putting teams up in our school facilities like we typically do overnights and having those monitored for close quarters and spreading them out. It would be increased sanitation needs on our custodial staff.” 

– Jamie Burgess

Both NPS and BSSD will be following recommendations from the Alaska School Activities Association. That includes adhering to social distancing when possible and asking students and coaches to wear masks when they can’t keep six feet between them. BSSD Superintendent Dr. Bobby Bolen thinks that means some sports, like wrestling, just won’t be able to safely practice this year.

“It’s too close and [without] that mitigation it’s a higher risk.”

– Dr. Bobby Bolen

BSSD students will also be competing against their peers within their home villages, although Bolen says travel between schools in the district could be a possibility later on in the season, depending on how local travel restrictions change.

Just like in Nome, BSSD schools will also remain closed to overnight visitors. But in the regional school district, that ban on visitors who are non-BSSD employees will also apply to local village residents. Bolen says right now there will be no open gyms for the community at BSSD schools.

“There’s just too much of a mixture of people in the gym and the numbers are hard to control so we will not be having open gym and we will not be having guests who are not critical infrastructure.”

Bolen went on to say that critical infrastructure would include people like Norton Sound Health Corporation staff or Alaska State Troopers.

Cross country is the first Alaska school sport to kick off this season. In Nome, the first Nome Beltz’s cross country practice began Wednesday night. Bolen says some BSSD schools’ cross country seasons are set to begin by the end of this week.

Image at Top: Nome’s Jamie Yi crosses the finish line at the White Mountain Cross-Country Invite. Photo from Gabe Colombo, KNOM. (2017)