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THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Spotlight to shine on North Idaho prep football

| August 27, 2020 1:20 AM

All eyes are going to be fixed on North Idaho on Friday night.

In particular, at Lake City High and at War Memorial Field in Sandpoint.

But also at Timberlake High and in Plummer.

Idaho is going to try to play high school sports through this COVID-19 pandemic, and on Friday night, football will be on display.

Soccer is already underway, as is cross country, with volleyball starting tonight and swimming coming up soon.

OVER THAT imaginary line into Washington, there's nothing going on.

High school sports in that state have already been pushed back, to start no earlier than late December at the earliest.

Most colleges have pushed back their fall sports seasons — or had that done for them.

That means no Washington State football, no Eags, no Whitworth ... no nothin’.

Folks over there who hardly batted an eye at what's happening in North Idaho are suddenly going to be REAL interested in what's going on over here.

We're the only game in town.

SO HOW will North Idaho respond, with the eyes of the region on our scenic panhandle?

Will we social distance?

Will we wear face coverings?

And if we don't, will we pay for it later?

Or will it even matter?

Up to now it's been mostly so far, so good as far as sports in North Idaho since the pandemic started shutting things down in mid-March.

Legion teams, aside from a hiccup or two, were able to play their seasons.

And after one week of high school sports, in this case, no news is good news.

"I'm happy we're doing it," said Lake City High athletic director Jim Winger, who will be as curious as anyone on Friday night when fans flock to his school's football stadium to watch the Timberwolves take on Lakeland. "We owe it to the kids."

Crowds will be limited at Lake City as well as at Sandpoint. Every other row of the bleachers at Lake City will be blocked off, to help "encourage" social distancing.

Fans can bring their lawn chairs and sit on the track, behind the end zones. They can sit on the hills as well, if that helps what brought us together keep us a little bit apart.

In another year, the spotlight would have been on Sandpoint, for another, non-COVID reason — the first high school football game on the new artificial turf at storied Barlow Stadium at War Memorial Field.

AFTER ALL, the kids already missed out on spring sports. If it can be done safely, it's worth a shot seeing if we can make it work in the fall.

If it works, great. If it doesn't, it won't be for a lack of trying by the schools.

"I'm convinced what we're doing, what the school is doing, it's better than what's going on outside of this arena," Winger said.

Remember, some teams in the Boise area are not even allowed to play yet, because their COVID numbers are still too high.

So North Idaho, make us proud.

Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on Twitter@CdAPressSports.