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Newberg coach reacts to decision from state board putting an end to the season

PMG FILE PHOTO - The Newberg High School girls water polo team will not get a chance to defend its state championship in 2020 after a decision this week to cancel the season due to the pandemic.

Serving as the first domino in what is likely to be a complete cancelation or suspension of fall sports in the state, the Oregon High School Water Polo Committee (OHSWPC) announced July 30 that it is nixing the 2020 season.

As a result, the Newberg High School girls water polo team cannot defend its state title this fall and the boys team will be unable to attempt to return to the state supremacy it has enjoyed in years past.

"After reviewing the guidance's from the CDC, governor's mandate, (Oregon Health Authority, Oregon School Activities Association) and that fact that schools will not be physically in session, we do not feel we can have a fall water polo season," the release from OHSWPC said. "While it is unfortunate, the well-being of our athletes, coaches, officials and fans are our priority."

Officials and coaches plan to meet again on Aug. 20 to discuss the possibility of moving the season to winter or spring. But given the unknowns about COVID-19, it is unlikely anything will be set in stone by August's end. The meeting will be held virtually and will decide the ultimate fate of Oregon high school water polo.

"Any athlete is going to be disappointed that they won't have a season, no matter the sport," NHS boys coach Jim McMaster said. "We're hoping that it potentially gets moved to the spring. It just depends on if the pool is open and what phase we are in by that time. We also have to consider where other counties are at in terms of reopening."

Newberg athletes have been participating in socially-distanced workouts at the Chehalem Aquatic Center, remaining at least six feet apart and not engaging in any scrimmage play or actual water polo activity. Most of the workouts involve strictly conditioning or skills training.

Athletes for the boys and girls club teams have been in the water off and on throughout the summer but haven't played games. They will continue workouts in the fall despite no games on the schedule, hoping for a swim season that starts on time.

"I think it's important that we wait until spring to do water polo so that, if we have swimming in the winter, our kids can do both," McMaster said.

The moment is frustrating and sad for those in the program, who — were it not for the pandemic — would be preparing for another grueling few months of practices under McMaster and girls coach Cari Blanchard. After that, dominance was likely on the horizon for boys and girls teams returning plenty of talent from last year's dominant, championship contending rosters.

But, as will likely be the case for other high school sports around the state, safety is paramount in the age of COVID-19.

"The safety of our athletes, their parents and their relatives has to be the No. 1 thing we look at," McMaster said. "Do I miss coaching? Absolutely. Do I miss the kids? Absolutely? But I want everyone to stay safe and healthy."

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