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Culver coach says team was notified only once by officials that concerns were raised, that he took steps to address the issue - but he doesn't want to dwell on the Santiam game, instead focus positively on the future

CHS BULLDOG  - Culver is ready to move past the controversial end of their March 5 game with Santiam, which ended with Santiam leaving the field in the third quarter. After leaving the football field at Culver High School in the third quarter of their football game March 5, without giving the host team an explanation, Santiam High School officials made a public statement Tuesday.

The issue, according to Santiam Superintendent Todd Miller, related to safety concerns regarding COVID protocols, namely mask wearing.

Culver Coach Shea Little noted that officials, if the first half of the game, told the Culver sideline that Santiam contended that there were mask-wearing issues among Culver players. Little said he asked the officials to let him know what players were not following the mask rules and that he would take care of that issue.

"I said, 'Hey, if I see or hear of any of you not having your masks up between plays or during the plays, I'm pulling you," said Little. "I nipped it in the bud."

Little also noted that the game was a bit chippy between the teams. Two years ago, Santiam had beated Culver 50-0. On Friday, Culver led 8-0 when Santiam — facing a fourth and 11 on the Culver end of the field — called time out, went to the end zone, then headed toward their bus and left.

Santiam officials did not respond to requests for comment from the Pioneer on Monday. However, on Tuesday afternoon, Supt. Miller issued this statement:

"Many questions have been raised about the Santiam football game at Culver last Friday evening. In the third quarter, our athletic director pulled our students off the field due to ongoing safety concerns over lack of enforcement of COVID protocols and mask wearing. Attempts were made over multiple quarters of football to remediate the issue with the referees and opposing team, but met with no noticeable support or enforcement of the mandated mask rule.

"Based on the information we have obtained, the difficult decision to pull our kids from the field is fully supported by school administration, as safety of student athletes remains a top priority. We are disappointed that these athletes lost an opportunity to compete, yet we are proud of their actions on the field that day and the way the situation was handled by our staff. It was a courageous move by our athletic director to do the right thing to protect all the athletes on that field, as he was forced into a decision he did not want to have to make, in a situation he was very frustrated to be put into. We are doing all we can to ensure this does not happen again for future athletic events and appreciate the initial discussions with OSAA as we work through this safety concern."

Over the weekend, Little expressed frustration with how the game ended. "Our whole community is frustrated. I've got coaches, parents, administration frustrated with the whole situation. It's just another opportunity taken away from the kids," said Little.

On Tuesday, though, after speaking with OSAA officials, Little was taking a more positive tone. He did say that "... we don't feel that it was a mask issue on our end" but added that Culver was "not going to make any statements about the past. We want to stay positive and professional. We are looking forward to playing Jefferson High this Friday night."

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