Student-athletes across the state are wondering the same thing: will the fall athletic season (and then winter and spring seasons) begin as usual? Or, will the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the dawn of a new school year?
Questions surrounding athletics are being addressed at all levels, from the National Federation of High Schools to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. In the end, the kickoff to a new sports season will be addressed within the boundaries of the Evergreen State.
“It’s all about the governor and it’s all about the Department of Health,” reported Chris Gibson, athletic director at White River High School. Fully aware that things can change week to week and day to day, Gibson is prepared for two possibilities: fall athletics could start as originally planned, with football practices beginning Aug. 19 and other sports Aug. 24 throughout the state; or, as he’s more inclined to believe, football players will report Sept. 5 and all other athletes Sept. 7.
Dave Stokke, athletic director at Enumclaw High School, shares the opinion that a September start is the most likely scenario.
Both athletic directors emphasize that high school athletes have been inactive since in-person classes were cancelled for the year. There have been no informal gatherings or training sessions involving players and coaches.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association – the governing body for athletics and activities in the state – address the “return to play” picture in a June 10 press release. Printed below is that release, in its entirety.
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At its June 7 meeting, the WIAA Executive Board was asked to set philosophical guidelines regarding the anticipated re-opening of schools and activities for the 2020-21 school year. This was done by answering four questions formulated by the National Federation of High Schools. The answers to these questions, which are listed below, will provide the framework for future planning of the Executive Board, WIAA Staff and member schools.
WIAA staff has started work on creating return-to-play guidelines on a sport-by-sport basis, beginning with the fall season. WIAA Assistant Executive Directors have assembled committees of coaches, administrators, officials and students from around the state to provide their expertise and input to tackle issues unique to each sport. A full list of committee members for each sport can be found in the attached document at the bottom of this email.
As we navigate return-to-play, schools in different regions of the state will inevitably be operating under circumstances and safety protocols unique to their area. The Executive Board determined that the primary mission of the WIAA is to provide opportunities in education-based athletics and activities. Participation in extracurricular sports and activities is a critical part of the high school experience and, sadly, that has never been more evident than when those opportunities were taken away this spring by COVID-19.
The WIAA Executive Board and staff recognize that participation will need to take place in a setting that does not jeopardize the health and well-being of students or their communities, which is why we will continue to think creatively as an organization while also working with health officials at the state level. We encourage each district and league to work together to answer these questions at the local level as well. Some leagues have already begun this planning by putting together committees to address regular-season contests and format for each sport. We strongly recommend all leagues have these discussions as we approach the fall season. While WIAA Staff will be available to support member schools in any way we can, each league has the autonomy to develop policies and contingency plans that represent their communities. WIAA staff plan to provide specific questions and talking points next week that will help drive those local conversations.
NFHS Return-To-Play Questions
1. Will the WIAA conduct an athletics/activities regular season or championship if schools statewide are closed to in-person learning (apart from regularly scheduled school breaks)?
Though many large schools and urban schools may only have distance learning, the WIAA intends to conduct a regular season and/or championships assuming the DOH supports the recommendation. At this time, the WIAA plans to begin the fall season as scheduled but is also examining a delayed start of September 7, 2020 (September 5 for football) as its primary contingency option.
2. Will the WIAA conduct an athletics/activities regular season or championship if schools are closed only in COVID-19 “hotspots” in Washington (excluding participants from schools that are closed)?
Although not ideal, the WIAA intends to conduct a regular season and/or championships even if all schools are not able to participate.
3. Will the WIAA conduct an athletics/activities regular season in sports deemed “lower-risk” for COVID-19 transmission while cancelling athletics/activities considered “higher-risk”?
The WIAA intends to conduct all scheduled fall athletics/activities that are approved by the DOH.
4. Are there recommendations unique to Washington that we need to take into consideration when developing our 2020-21 plans? This could include modified seasons, modified rules, etc.
The WIAA intends to commence sport/activity-specific work groups to recommend and evaluate modifications to rules. It is also recommended the Executive Board prioritize modified season options and determine decision deadlines.