In a world turned upside down, perhaps it’s no surprise that high school sports is headed into a year like no other.
As student-athletes at Enumclaw and White River high schools prepare for a new school year that brings a distance-learning model, their sporting opportunities are shut down until (at least) late December.
The rationale is simple: if it’s too dangerous for young people to return to their classrooms it’s too dangerous for them to gather in locker rooms.
The current athletic calendar on both sides of the river has morphed out of a four-season concept revealed weeks ago by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. The WIAA, operating out of headquarters in Renton, governs high school sports throughout the Evergreen State.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the WIAA hatched a plan aimed at protecting students until the dawn of a new year. Traditional fall sports that brought close contact – football, volleyball and girls’ soccer – were pushed off until spring. The remaining sports on the fall schedule were deemed “lower risk” and were kept in place; that included boys’ tennis and a pair of programs (cross country and golf) that field boys’ and girls’ teams simultaneously.
That notion, however, was dismissed by leaders in the South Puget Sound League 2A. Due to enrollment counts and league realignments, Enumclaw has joined White River High as a member of the SPSL 2A. In past years, Enumclaw has elected to opt-up and participate in the Class 4A division of the SPSL.
Dave Stokke, athletic director at EHS, reported last week that the SPSL 2A’s member schools voted unanimously to skip what the WIAA has identified as Season 1. Instead, the lower-risk sports will wait until Season 3, which begins March 1.
The decision, according to both Stokke and White River High AD Chris Gibson, was based on benchmarks established by the Department of Health and with student safety in mind.
So, with the WIAA’s Season 1 scrapped at the SPSL level, here’s what the sports calendar might look like. Everything should be written in pencil as it could be quickly erased due to health concerns.
WIAA Season 2: Turnouts beginning the week of Dec. 28 for basketball (boys and girls), bowling, boys swim and dive, gymnastics and wrestling (boys and girls). The season ends Feb. 27.
WIAA Season 3: Turnouts begin the week of March 1 for volleyball, girls’ soccer, girls’ swim and dive, cross country (boys and girls), boys’ tennis and golf (boys and girls). Football will begin earlier than the rest, with turnouts slated to begin Feb. 17. The season ends May 1.
WIAA Season 4: Turnouts begin the week of April 26 for girls’ tennis, fastpitch softball, track and field, baseball, boys soccer and dance/drill. The season concludes June 26, after the anticipated end of the school year.
As part of the pandemic response, other significant changes are coming.
• With conditions differing throughout the state, the potential exists for sports to be played at different times of the year. Some areas could be operating in Phase 3 or Phase 4, while others remain in Phase 1 of the governor’s four-step reopening plan.
• Seasons will be pared down in order to fit the compressed schedule. For example, basketball teams are traditionally allowed 20 regular-season games but, for the coming year, the limit will be 14. Football’s 10-game season will be sliced to seven contests; soccer and tennis have been allowed 16 matches, but that has been reduced to 11; and volleyball – which saw its season expanded to 18 matches this year – now will be limited to 12.
• Summers are usually OK’d for “contact time” between coaches and athletes, but that has been off-limits this year. So, the period between Sept. 28 and Nov. 30 has been authorized. Traditionally, summers are when football players and teams attend camps, basketball teams participate in tournaments, etc.