The Ashland High School football team realized a worst-case scenario Wednesday when it announced the forfeiture of its Southern Sky Conference opener against Crater.
The game was to take place Friday in Ashland, but the decision was made to cancel after a flu outbreak that devastated the school and kept out more than 20 Grizzlies in three straight days of practice.
"Our main concern right now has to be the health of the kids," Ashland head coach Charlie Hall said. "This is a decision that reflects our priorities right now, and something that we felt just had to be done."
Hall said he was concerned about rushing the athletes back because of the risk of secondary infections. He kept those sick and still recovering out of practice on Wednesday, which left only 18 out of a possible 65 in the program on the field, and eight were freshman.
"There were really just no other options," AHS athletic director Karl Kemper said. "We didn't feel like we had enough people to put a team on the field, and we weren't going to throw some backup (junior varsity) players out there and run the risk of them getting injured."
The outbreak caused more than 200 students to miss school at the beginning of the week, and by Tuesday Hall said there were 12 Grizzly starters included among the absentees.
Ashland, which fell to 2-5 overall and 0-1 in the Southern Sky Conference with the forfeit, came into the week losers of four of their last five contests. Fourth-ranked Crater improves to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in SSC play after opening up the four-game league schedule with a win over Eagle Point last weekend.
The Grizzlies are scheduled to play every Friday from now until the end of the season, so an OSAA rule that prevents players from participating in more than five quarters per week ruled out any chance of an Ashland-Crater make-up game.
"We talked about potentially moving the game to this Saturday," Kemper said, "but that's just not enough time for these athletes to make a considerable recovery."
Added Hall: "It takes more than just one or two days to prepare for a football game, and that's what we would have been looking at if we rescheduled the game for Saturday. You also have to consider that the kids who have been sick and are recovering are still going to be pretty weak for a few days."
SSC coaches and athletic directors met earlier in the season to discuss what would happen in a scenario like this after Phoenix was forced to cancel its Oct. 2 game against Sutherlin due to a similar outbreak. Because of the schedule, though, it was determined that a forfeit at the varsity level was the only option.
Hall noted that he is unaware of Ashland ever forfeiting under similar circumstances before. He said breaking the news to the team of the forfeit was difficult to swallow for most of the Grizzly players, but not unexpected.
"They're disappointed, but they're disappointed while they're coughing in their sleeves," he said. "This is just such an unprecedented situation, and it feel really awkward for a lot of people, especially because this has been such a good game between these two teams.
"We're just going to try to use this little rest to try to make a push in the last three games."
Ashland resumes SSC play next weekend at Klamath Union.
Josh McDermott is a freelance reporter. To comment on this story call 482-3456 x224 or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.