Prep cross country runners can all breathe a little bit easier as part of a Washington Interscholastic Activities Association update that will allow athletes to run without masks during competitions.
The rule covered under the Races, Non-Motorized and Motorized Guidelines issued last month by the governor’s office, also applies to “races, bicycle tours and rides, runs, cross country skiing races, biathlons, canoe and kayak races, marathons, cross country running competitions, triathlons and multi-sport competitions with more than 12 participants.”
Mask wearing had previously been required by the state Department of Health in order to limit the transmission of airborne respiratory particles during competition.
The state also previously made a mask exception for swim and dive participants during competition, and gymnasts may remove their masks and facial coverings only when they are competing or practicing on equipment.
Masks will still be required to be worn at meets before and after competition.
Sequim, Port Angeles and East Jefferson runners competed with masks during their season-opening races at Klahowya Secondary School near Silverdale earlier this month.
“We understood the difficulty, and with the guidance in place at the time, we proved and demonstrated that we can do this safely for our student athletes and parents, and we did,” Port Angeles athletic director Dwayne Johnson said. “It’s been a commendable effort by our coaches and athletes.”
Roughriders cross country coach Rodger Johnson described the mask rule as “certainly uncomfortable.
“We were able to adapt to the mask rule while training and racing, but it was certainly uncomfortable,” Johnson said. “Pre-screening athletes, ‘wave starts’ at the races and following our state and local COVID protocols while practicing and traveling should allow us to proceed safely with this short cross country season.”
Wave starts are limited to 10 participants or fewer in Phase 1 and 30 participants or fewer in Phase 2 with staggered time intervals.
The cross country coach said he has noticed positive changes with his athletes already.
“Students who have been struggling through the pandemic are thriving with the return of structure and physical activity in their lives,” Johnson said.
Sequim senior cross country runner/soccer player Eli Gish weighed in on wearing masks during athletics as practices started in earnest last month.
“It’s been weird. We do that for soccer practices with my club team in Gig Harbor and off-season (cross country) practices here in Sequim,” Gish said.
“It’s annoying, but it’s one of those things you have to do to be able to practice right now. If we can play games and wear masks, I’m OK with it.”
B.J. Schade, SHS cross country assistant coach, said Sequim runners were still coming to terms with the required face coverings in early season practices.
“They hate it,” he said. “We’re trying to find different masks. They’re just getting used to it. We’re trying to be as strict as we can.”
Masked cross country runners have been a hot topic on area social media forums lately, along with another hot-button issue: spectators at prep sporting events.
The Northwest Region was stuck in Phase 1 through the start of this week — meaning, initially, no spectators were allowed at any prep contests.
Johnson, who also serves as Olympic League President, said the league voted to not allow spectators during Phase 1 in a vote taken in January but said the idea of a limited number of fans in the stands can be revisited if the region moves into Phase 2.
“The league officials and each school district made a vote on not allowing spectators during a meeting about three weeks ago,” Johnson said. “It was a unanimous vote; everybody was on board. To get started in Phase 1, girls swimming and boys and girls cross country, they are not allowed any spectators by rule. We wanted to have equity across the board with regard to not having spectators.”
Last week, Sequim School District officials released a statement saying Sequim and Port Angeles districts are teaming to create a return to sports and spectator plan as local schools adjust to Phase 2 guidelines.
District officials outlined the three main sports seasons that align with WIAA officials: Season 1, Feb. 1-March 20 1, includes cross country, football, girls soccer, girls swimming and dive, volleyball and cheer; Season 2, Match 15-May 1, includes baseball, golf, boys soccer, track & field, girls fast pitch, and girls tennis, and Season 3, April 26-June 12, includes basketball, boys swimming and diving, boys tennis, wrestling, girls gymnastics, cheer, and cheer tryouts for the next year.
“During the three Port Angeles and Sequim School Districts conference seasons, should a school determine that theycan safely plan for spectators to attend a competition, Port Angeles and Sequim School Districts will only allow parents/guardians/students at the home school to attend a competition,” district officials said in a joint press release.
“Athletic attendees of up to 200 people or 25 percent of a facility’s capacity, whichever is lower, is allowed under current WIAA rules. The maximum occupancy rules include athletes, coaches, sideline cheer, drill team, musical performers, game administrators, and other team staff.
“The number of spectators will vary depending on the sport.”
Details about tickets for family and/or student spectators were scheduled to be a announced this week.