What will the fall sports season look like and when will high school athletes begin turning out? That’s an evolving question being asked by players, coaches and fans everywhere.
There should be some clarity provided next Wednesday (July 22) when the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is expected to announce the fate of the fall campaign and, perhaps, programs assigned to the winter and spring athletic seasons.
The WIAA, operating from its Renton headquarters, is the governing body for sports and other activities throughout the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the world of prep athletics for a loop, just as it has done throughout public education and society in general. Before everything went sideways, it was assumed the fall sports season would begin with football turnouts on Aug. 19, followed by other fall sports five days later.
Now, everyone is playing a guessing game while a WIAA committee debates a solution. Involved in the process are school administrators and coaches, along with WIAA staff. Adding to the mix is input from the Centers for Disease Control, the National Federation of High School Sports and, in the end, an official word from Olympia.
“It’s all hanging on Phase 3,” Enumclaw High Athletic Director Dave Stokke said, referring to the phased-in approach announced by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Chris Gibson, the athletic director at White River, echoed the same sentiment. “If we’re still in Phase 2, we’re not doing anything,” he said.
Like everyone, Stokke and Gibson are awaiting formal direction so they can pass the word to coaches and athletes on both sides of the river.
The latest information from the WIAA came July 7, when its executive board scrapped any hope that sport practices would begin as originally planned. Instead, the board determined that football turnouts tentatively be set to begin Sept. 5 and other sports on Sept. 7.
In a press release issued at the time, the WIAA explained, “The action was taken in an attempt to relieve pressure on member schools as they prepare for the opening of schools to in-person and/or online learning.”
A crucial part of the equation is when actual sporting events can take place and the WIAA board addressed that as well. “These starting dates (Saturday and Monday of Labor Day weekend) allow for contests to begin as early as September 18th,” the release noted.
With a nod to the uncertainty of the entire situation, it was stated that the executive board will gather on July 21 to “review other options for fall sports should further delays become necessary.” Whatever the decision might be, it is expected to be announced the following day.
If turnouts cannot begin in early September, the WIAA has a third option in the works, both Gibson and Stokke confirmed. In a move that would be earthshaking in the prep world, the entire 2020-21 sports calendar could be reduced to a window of about five months, beginning in January and running into May. Sports would overlap, Stokke said, and there’s no guarantee that the calendar could begin with the fall season; things could get rolling with the winter season, he said, with football, volleyball, girls soccer and other traditional fall sports offered last.
THE NEW LEAGUE AWAITS
Whatever the case – and whenever sports are offered – there will be new league alignments that impact both Enumclaw and White River high schools.
A new system of dividing schools among the WIAA’s six classifications (4A, 3A, 2A, 1A, 1B and 2B) shook things up a bit. At the same time, Enumclaw administration chose to abandon its ongoing decision to “opt up” to the 4A level, despite a smaller enrollment.
As a result, Enumclaw has joined a revamped South Puget Sound League 2A that includes neighboring White River. The league has nine teams, all in one division, and includes (aside from the Plateau rivals) Clover Park, Fife, Foss, Franklin Pierce, Orting, Steilacoom and Washington.