ENTERPRISE — Youths ages 5 through 13 are back on the soccer field, having started practice last week and begun regular play, according to Jeff Yanke, president of the Wallowa Valley Youth Soccer Association.

But like many other things, this year, “regular” has taken on a new meaning. With an insufficient number of volunteer parents and children signing up because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there aren’t enough teams — or kids on teams — to hold regular competition.

“We’re doing essentially a clinic for the kids who show up,” Yanke said.

Last year, there were about 220 kids who signed up to play. That number is down to about 75 this year, he said. When registration was opened in August, 175 initially signed up. But because of the pandemic — and other reasons, Yanke said — youths were allowed to withdraw with no penalty and the number dropped to about 75.

Volunteer coaches also withdrew for similar reasons, he said.

“We didn’t have the help, the volunteer coaches to pull it off,” he said.

Yanke said the revised format also gives teams the flexibility to keep their soccer skills sharp if too many kids are out sick or don’t show up for other reasons.

“It all matters who shows up what day and we’ll go from there,” he said.

Rather than the usual competition between teams, each session will be led by a group of coaches and will include a warm-up, drills, games for improving skills and scrimmages. Players need to bring a mask, water bottle and ball (if possible) to each session. The association anticipates running the clinics through the week of Oct. 5.

The weather also shortened the season. On Sept. 15, the association postponed the two older division clinics because of the persistent smoke conditions from fires on the west side of the state. This went along with an advisory by the Oregon Youth Soccer Association to cancel or move indoors when the air quality index reaches 100 or higher. At that time, the AQI was 175.

At present, U-8 players (under 8) ages 5 through 7 play from Mondays and Tuesdays. U-11 players ages 8 to 10 play Wednesdays and Thursdays. U-14 players ages 11 through 13 play Wednesdays and Thursdays.

All three age groups play from 5:15 to 6:15 p.m. The U-11 players are at Enterprise City Park, while the other two groups are at Jensen Fields.

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