Football, volleyball and girls soccer will be moved to spring as the normal three-season school year will be condensed into four shorter sports seasons in moves announced on July 21 by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Executive Board.
The announcement is not set in stone, as the WIAA noted the rising number of positive tests for the coronavirus in the state.
“When you look at dates, those are definitely written in pencil,” WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said in a Zoom media briefing.
Dave Ditlefsen, Sequim High School athletic director and head baseball coach, said he is glad to have a path forward to return to athletics.
“We have our target now, we know what to prepare for, and it’s good to know what we are aiming for,” Ditlefsen said.
A potential rise in the number of athletes who turn out for cross country, boys tennis or girls swim and dive, the three sports that could be offered by area schools this fall, could provide the chance for four-sport athletes.
“That could certainly be an unintended benefit,” Ditlefsen said. “Letting athletes try some sports they normally wouldn’t have access to. I hope it increases participation. The best news is they didn’t allow the season to start and then have to stop. This provides a better chance to move things down the line where we have a better grasp on things.”
Postponing the volleyball season to March, Sequim volleyball coach Jennie Webber Heilman said, turns out to be a blessing of sorts. It opens the possibility that COVID-19 numbers may be lower by then, allowing for more physical activity heading into the season.
“(If we) get to a different phase, we’ll be able to play a little bit,” she said. “I guess (the postponement) will give kids a chance to play other sports.”
The shorter seasons, each about eight weeks in length, see prep teams cap their schedule at 70 percent — 14 games for a basketball team instead of the standard 20, for example — and limits the schedule to league opponents, Ditlefsen said.
The goal for Washington state prep sports advocates, Ditlefsen said, is to see each student-athlete have an opportunity to play their sport or sports.
WIAA has distributed health guidelines for each of those sports (seaintsol.net/wiaasecure/subcontent.aspx?secid=1240).
“They really don’t want to cancel anything,” he said. “We’ve got time to get some work done.”
The fall sports of cross country, slowpitch softball, as well as alternative seasons for golf and tennis, have been determined to consist of WIAA Season 1 and will each begin practices the week of Sept. 7, a date determined by the Executive Board at a previous meeting.
Season 1 will run through Nov. 8.
The viability of girls’ swim and dive taking place in WIAA Season 1 is dependent on more information from the state Department of Health.
Participation in any fall sports will depend on county progression through the phases laid out in Gov. Inslee’s Safe Start plan over the coming weeks.
Hoffman pointed out that counties have to be in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening plan for low-risk sports such as cross country, and Phase 4 for moderate-risk sports such as volleyball and soccer.
The Executive Board will create benchmarks to be met in order for WIAA Season 1 to take place.
Board president Greg Whitmore, a coach and athletic director at Lind-Ritzville, said it is possible fall sports could be pushed to spring and no sports are played in Washington before 2021 if the virus is still a threat across the state.
“We know those sports are in peril, too,” Whitmore said on the Zoom call. “A lot of things have to happen in our favor to have those happen.”
Ditlefsen said last week that if Clallam County is still in Phase 2 of Inslee’s Safe Start plan those fall sports would be pushed to early spring — essentially replicating the fall season in March and April.
Sequim School District officials have not yet announced whether they will reopen schools in early September or opt for all remote learning this fall. Ditlefsen said Sequim could see athletics offered regardless, since the three sports being proposed are deemed “low risk” sports.
Seasons 2, 3, 4
Season 2 starts on Jan. 4 with winter sports — boys and girls basketball, bowling, boys swimming and diving, gymnastics, cheerleading and wrestling — and ends March 7. Winter season sports usually begins in late November.
A break in sports seasons between Nov. 8 and Jan. 4 will allow for flexibility in case of further upticks in positive tests, WIAA officials noted.
That break was created on purpose, Ditlefsen said; it’s traditionally the start of the heavy flu season, but if health conditions are much improved and vaccines were available the state could allow Season 2 to start early.
While no contingency plan exists to guide what can be done if the virus’ impact does not allow for sports in January, Ditlefsen said a number of ideas are being considered.
Season 3, which will have the normal fall sports of football, girls and Class 1B/2B boys soccer and volleyball, will run from March 1-May 2.
Hoffman warned that for high-risk sports such as wrestling and football, it requires counties to be Phase 4-plus, the guidelines for which have not been determined.
Volleyball, WIAA officials note, has been determined a “moderate risk” sport.
For Webber Heilman’s Wolves, that means players will have to use hand sanitizer as they enter or leave the game.
“Officials are going to have to be flexible; they’re going to have give them time to do that,” she said.
It also means no pre-game handshakes, fist bumps or high fives, and no bench for the substitute/extra players.
“It’ll be weird not having a bench … (and) I’m going to have to yell through a mask,” Webber Heilman said.
The WIAA said that it is not sure yet if it will allow athletes to compete in two sports at once or what to do about athletes, particularly in football, who leave the state for the fall season and return in January.
“I’m hoping we will be able to have a four-sport athlete with some of the overlaps,” Hoffman said. “We are actually adding a season, even though they are shorter. We might have our first four-sport athlete in a while.”
And no decision has been made on postseason playoff plans. It’s possible the postseason may be regionalized with several teams able to call themselves champs.
Masks, testing, travel
The WIAA will not require COVID-19 testing, as it, and many school districts lack funding for such measures.
Teams could possibly be removed from competition if a player/coach/official tests positive, because anyone who was in close contact with them will need to be quarantined for 14 days.
Ditlefsen said that, in a perfect world, the teammates of a player who tests positive would also be tested right away but high school teams don’t have resources like professional teams do, so guidelines are still being worked on about procedures following a positive test.
“We don’t have the answer at this point,” he said.
Transportation for prep athletes to away games was initially going to be limited to buses filled to just a third of capacity, Ditlefsen said. However, the most current recommendations will allow for full buses with temperature checks and masks/face coverings for each person on board, he said.
“There will be probably a lot more opportunities for kids to ride to games with (their) parents,” Ditlefsen said.
Masks/face coverings would be required for participants except for athletes involved in sports deemed “strenuous.”
Another issue complicating matters is having enough officials to call games, especially in truncated seasons which could see teams play multiple games per week.