High school athletes and coaches, along with the family and friends who support them, have learned to take nothing for granted. Sports calendars have been shuffled, the entire prep experience was delayed for months and now – most unsettling – comes the prospect of a reduction in athletic opportunities.
Enumclaw and White River high schools compete in the 10-team South Puget Sound League 2A, where there’s a very present danger that existing guidelines will be replaced with stricter rules and regulations. That could make a huge impact as certain sports could be delayed or cancelled.
In the SPSL 2A, nine teams sit in Pierce County with only Enumclaw across the border in King County.
As things now exist, Season 3 began Monday of this week with the first day of official team turnouts. The sports calendar has been turned a bit upside-down by COVID, as those sports deemed “high risk” were pushed late into the school year. The thinking behind that plan was that the pandemic would be easing by spring.
That reasoning appeared sound for a time, but recent developments have made things more complicated. It has been anticipated that everything could have changed on Monday of this week (May 3) when new COVID figures were released. New numbers are released every three weeks, so the sports landscape could be altered again on May 24.
Barring any full-sport cancellations, Season 3 will be a mighty busy time for those with a hand in the world of prep athletics. Aside from basketball and wrestling (which offer separate programs for both male and female athletes), the season brings boys’ tennis, gymnastics, boys’ swimming, boys’ and girls’ water polo and bowling.
Swimming and gymnastics are offered at Enumclaw High School, but there are White River athletes turning out as well, since their school doesn’t offer those activities. Bowling is unique to White River.
Gymnastics is in an odd situation, as the Enumclaw/White River squad is the only program in the SPSL 2A. Gymnasts will begin turning out later than most, on May 17, and the hunt is on for competition. The nearest league offering gymnastics is the North Puget Sound League, which doesn’t begin turnouts until May 17. That makes for a tough season, admits EHS Athletic Director Dave Stokke.
It appears everything will proceed according to plan, for the first week at least, Stokke said. If the latest COVID numbers, which were released Monday, require that King County takes a step back to Phase 2, it won’t take effect until Friday of this week.
Chris Gibson, athletic director at White River High and head of the local league’s AD group, said there are creative options being explored to keep sports rolling.
For wrestling, for example, there has been talk of putting mats in the middle of football fields and hosting meets outdoors. “Only a few of our schools want to do it,” Gibson said, “but we have to do something for our kids.”
What about basketball if games are not permitted locally under Phase 2 guidelines? Discussions have been held about finding a venue in a Phase 3 county and playing all the SPSL 2A games there. Every contest would be a “road game” for every school. Such a move could salvage a season, Gibson said.
In another sign of the COVID times, Enumclaw High has 1,100 “rapid test” kits available. If water polo and wrestling are allowed to proceed, Stokke said, athletes in those sports will be tested twice a week – once on the day of competition and one other day. Results from a nasal swab are available within 15 minutes.
Testing in those two sports, Stokke explained, is mandated by the state Department of Health.
LOOKING AHEAD TO SEASON 3
With all the uncertainty swirling around the sports scene, all are simply hoping for the best. If competition is scheduled, in one form or another, here are some of the teams and individuals that could make the best of a tough situation.
• Perhaps the most noteworthy program is found on the mats at White River High, where wrestlers continue to shine. A year ago, February’s state championships were held prior to the pandemic shutting everything down, giving the WRHS athletes an opportunity to test themselves against the best the state has to offer.
The Hornets made the most of the test with the White River girls claiming a state team title while the boys placed third.
The White River girls, in particular, appear poised to challenge once again for state glory. Last year’s championship squad was filled with underclassmen, including state 2A champ Claire DiCugno. Also back is Shelby Moore, who captured three national championships last month as a club wrestler.
On the boys’ team, four Hornets earned all-league honors last year as underclassmen.
• Also at White River, both basketball programs – boys and girls – are coming off successful seasons that culminated with an opportunity to participate in the Class 2A state tournament in Yakima.
Both Hornet programs made the state’s Sweet 16 and then advanced to the 12-team field that gathered in Yakima.
On the girls’ side, coach Chris Gibson welcomes back a handful of returnees, including last season’s league co-MVP Kara Marecle and first team all-league selection Taylor Schmidtke.
• At Enumclaw, athletes and coaches will continue the transition from Class 4A competition to 2A. This is the first year EHS has entered traditional winter sports against smaller schools.
A season ago, a handful of EHS underclassmen fared well against 4A foes. That list includes wrestler Cade Carter, a subregional and regional champion who finished as a sixth-place medalist at state; fellow wrestlers Ryder Popke and Westin Triplett, both subregional champions; state-qualifying swimmer Ben Jazbutis, last year’s league MVP, and diver Ricky Bonthuis, also a state participant; gymnast Ashley Dickerson, who qualified for state; and basketball players John Leonard and Dane Goudy, a pair of all-league selections for Terry Johnson, who took Coach of the Year honors.