Time continues to heal no wounds for Washington’s high school sports.
But, considering what’s happening in other states, the news from the WIAA on Tuesday could have been worse.
In response to the current conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WIAA Executive Board has created four hybrid seasons for the 2020-2021 school year, moving football, volleyball and girls soccer from the fall to early next spring and into the third of four modified seasons.
With all winter sports in Season 2 not starting until late December or early January, the WIAA has tentatively established a Season 1 for the fall that includes cross country and slowpitch softball with the possibility of girls swimming, golf and tennis.
It was an inauspicious start to the week nationally as California on Monday delayed the start of all high school fall sports until at least December or January. The Executive Board, which includes Wapato High School principal David Blakney and Toppenish School District superintendent John Cerna, cautions that the California model might still be used here if certain timelines and conditions aren’t met.
According to the WIAA release, “The Board recognizes that participation in any fall sports will depend on county progression through the phases laid out in Governor Inslee’s Safe Start plan over the coming weeks. The Executive Board will create benchmarks on July 28 to be met in order for WIAA Season 1 to take place. If the benchmarks are not met, the Board will plan to move the remainder of fall sports to WIAA Season 3.
The introduction of Season 3 to accommodate the delay of football, volleyball and girls soccer (with possibly girls swimming) is tentatively set to span March and April. Season 4 would include the traditional spring sports and extend much longer into late June.
“Since March, the philosophy of our Association has been to allow students every chance to participate,” said WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman in a release. “We’ve asked our Executive Board and planning committees to be as creative as possible in allowing for those opportunities. These are tough and unprecedented decisions to make, but it has been inspiring to see so many people around the state come together to work on behalf of students.”
If the reduced Season 1 is allowed to move forward, practices would begin the week of Sept. 7. Whether or not girls swimming is contested in the fall depends on additional information from the Department of Health. If not, it would be moved into Season 3.
The difficulty in moving forward with Season 1 — for everybody, at least — is that the state’s counties are highly varied in their phase levels. Yakima County has struggled to reach a modified Phase 1.5, sharing that distinction with Benton, Franklin, Chelan and Douglas counties. Kittitas County, however, is in Phase 3.
According to the WIAA return-to-play guidelines, which were released last month and aligned national recommendations with the state’s Safe Start plan, cross country is a low-risk sport and could have competitions of up to 50 in Phase 3. Individual swimming (not relays) is also low risk and could have competitions in Phase 4, the same level that slowpitch softball could move ahead with full practices and games.
Volleyball and soccer are both rated as moderate risk while football is deemed high risk. Guidelines for each fall sport can be found on the WIAA website.
During a media Zoom session following Tuesday’s announcement, WIAA officials said it is unlikely sports would be played at schools with no in-person learning but the conversion is ongoing with superintendents.
Another topic during the session was the postseason and many scenarios are being considered, including multiple state championships — yes, more than one in the same classification — to reduce travel costs and eliminate overnight trips to save schools money.
Additionally, the WIAA noted that any athlete who tests positive for the coronavirus will need to quarantine for 14 days. No formal testing plan is in place yet.
• Luke Thompson contributed to this report.