As students draw closer to returning to their classrooms, high school athletes are also seeing light at the end of a dark, COVID-19 tunnel.
Athletic directors from throughout the South Puget Sound League 2A, which includes both Enumclaw and White River high schools, met the morning of Jan. 8 to chart their immediate athletic futures. They decided to kick off football practices on Feb. 10 and begin turnouts for other traditional fall sports on Feb. 15.
That decision needed approval from league principals, who were to tackle the athletic issue Monday of this week (after press deadline).
Due to the periodic reclassification of Washington schools, it’s a much-different SPSL 2A that will greet players, coaches and fans. The nine-team league lost a couple of members from a year ago, but added Enumclaw, which dropped from Class 4A classification to 2A status.
Aside from football, the athletic year will begin with and girls’ cross country, girls’ soccer, volleyball, boys’ tennis and girls’ swim and dive. Also a traditional fall sport is golf for both girls and boys, but that could be pushed to another time of year; spring weather in Western Washington isn’t especially conducive to hitting the fairways.
Action by the SPSL 2A had been pushed back a couple of days as athletic directors awaited announcement of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” plan. That directive outlined new ground rules for the resumption of school athletics and activities throughout the state.
That announcement followed a Jan. 6 decision by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to move traditional fall sports to what is being termed WIAA Season 1. The association’s executive board is expected to firm up Season 2 and Season 3 during a Jan. 19 meeting.
During a year like no other on record, the various leagues around the state will have some flexibility. As Enumclaw High Athletic Director Dave Stokke said, “we have the ability to do what’s best for our league.”
The WIAA had determined Season 1 should span seven weeks. It has been agreed that each of the three seasons will end with a regional “culminating event,” rather than a statewide championship event.
Following the WIAA executive board’s action on Jan. 6, WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman had this to say:
“The change in guidelines allow all traditional fall sports to be played in Phase 2 while we still do not have a clear pathway to the high-risk indoor activities of basketball, competitive cheer and dance, and wrestling. With that in mind, moving fall sports to Season 1 will hopefully provide the most opportunities to participate.”
The WIAA also stated its staff will continue working with the state’s Department of Health to gain more clarity surrounding the guidelines that were issued last week.
White River AD Chris Gibson, who serves as president of the SPSL group, said high school sports, once launched, will look different than games played at the collegiate and professional level. Namely, all coaches and players will be in masks at all times, even during practice.
Another sign of the times, Stokke said, will be the limited number of people in attendance at sporting events. Current standards call for no more than 200 people at an outdoor game, he said, a number that includes players, coaching staffs and officials, not to mention fans. Take, for example, football: with perhaps 80 players on the sidelines, a dozen or more coaches, athletic trainers, field officials and the chain gang, that doesn’t allow for many spectators.
An indoor sport like volleyball could be a bit fan-friendlier, Stokke said, as the existing rules will allow a gym to be occupied at 25 percent capacity.
In addition to changing the sports scheduled for WIAA Season 1, the executive board voted to extend the “open coaching” period at each school until the day before a school’s season begins. While adhering to Department of Health guidelines, coaches and players have been allowed to gather in outdoor, small-group settings.
Founded in 1905, the WIAA is a membership organization of over 800 middle level and high schools from every corner of the state. The WIAA supports and sponsors 23 sports along with five activities that involve more than 500,000 student participants.