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Smoke and poor air quality play havoc with college, high school teams

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 5, 2017, 8:26 p.m.

From Pullman to the Canadian border, from colleges to high schools, smoky skies played havoc with local sports teams on Tuesday.

“We’re going to take it hour by hour,” Eastern Washington football coach Aaron Best said as the Eagles were chased from their red turf to their indoor fieldhouse.

As air quality reached unhealthy and even hazardous levels, administrators at all levels moved to protect their athletes.

The big question now: how long will the smoke last, and how it could affect weekend games. Eastern, Washington State and Whitworth all have home football games this weekend, and all are making contingency plans.

“Steps are being taken to exhaust all options,” said Best, whose Eagles are scheduled to host North Dakota State on Saturday.

Meanwhile Washington State practiced indoors Tuesday afternoon ahead of Saturday night’s home game against Boise State.

“Too early to determine anything regarding Saturday,” was the response from WSU’s Sports Information department to an inquiry about moving the game to the Kibbie Dome in Moscow.

If it comes to that, the Kibbie Dome could be a busy place on Saturday, as the hometown Idaho Vandals are home against UNLV.

“This (smoke) was supposed to be cleared out of here by now,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “So they certainly don’t know (about) Saturday.”

Indoor practice didn’t hamper the Cougars on Tuesday, aside from limiting what they could do on special teams. Leach said the team would practice inside on Wednesday if necessary.

“I’ve been trying to stay inside all day,” Cougar running back Jamal Morrow said. “It is bad out there, but we’re happy to have the bubble. This good old thing, the sanctuary, is treating us good.”

Whitworth has already reached out to other schools, including Idaho.

On Tuesday, the Whitworth football team split into offensive and defensive units and utilized the indoor tennis facility and the fieldhouse.

Other teams had an easier adjustment, as soccer and cross country teams at all area colleges moved practices indoors.

“Due to the current unhealthy levels, all programs that spend time outdoors are making alternate plans for practices and workouts to stay indoors,” said Todd Zeidler, Gonzaga’s assistant athletic director for communications.

“Sports medicine staff are in communication with coaches on the conditions and will advise them when the air quality returns to acceptable outdoor activity levels,” Zeidler said.

Area high schools were playing it safe by canceling all outdoor games and practices.

How soon football and girls soccer teams may resume outdoor practices and games is anyone’s guess, Mead athletic director John Barrington said.

The Greater Spokane League has a league-wide agreement that no outdoor activities will take place if the air quality index is more than 150, Barrington said.

The index hovered around the 250 mark for most of Tuesday.

“They’re saying the poor air is going to last at least through Thursday,” Barrington said.

Mead and Mt. Spokane each have fieldhouses for their football and girls soccer teams to use for practice. Central Valley and University have auxiliary gyms to accommodate indoor practices, too.

No football games are scheduled in the region on Thursday, but there are soccer matches scheduled each day.

Washington State was still weighing its options regarding football practice, while Eastern Washington and Whitworth planned to practice indoors.

Staff writers Greg Lee and Theo Lawson contributed to this report.


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