YAKIMA, Wash. — In case you haven’t deduced this by now, it stinks to cover sports these days.
First of all, there isn’t much to cover, especially locally, and some of our two-page sections make that obvious. But worst of all, when there is news, it’s almost always bad.
High school spring sports, delayed then canceled.
Yakima Valley Pippins, delayed then canceled.
Popular local events, canceled or virtual (yuk) or without fans.
YVC athletics, canceled in the spring and now the fall.
It’s been a miserable grind for us to churn this out for months on end, especially from a quarantined life at home, and we’re sorry about that. As the toy department in this business, we’re by nature and habit way too upbeat to keep running pictures of empty fields and stories about heartbroken athletes.
But here we are, nearly five months later, and the coronavirus rages on. It’s changed everything for everybody and taken away one of our most essential non-essentials, our sports. But come on now, we have to buck up, realize how fortunate we are, do our best to stay healthy and just deal with it.
That last point is particularly important to keep in mind, I think, as we await the WIAA’s latest news on fall sports due out on Wednesday. These sports, once thought to be mercifully distant from the shocking spring shutdown, are now on the brink. Perhaps this announcement will be a second, deeper delay for the start of the season or perhaps it will be much more drastic.
This much seems certain: Football, at least in the fall, is done.
It pains me to write those words. I’m still thinking of what the schedule had in store for us the first week — Selah at Eisenhower on Thursday followed by Prosser at Sunnyside and Toppenish at East Valley on Friday. Skip the appetizers and straight to the meat.
But the obstacles are too high and too many. And the numbers simply don’t work.
Those of us in Yakima County sit here on July 19 in Phase 1.5 of the state’s Safe Start guidelines. And we have 1.5 neighbors — Benton, Douglas and Chelan counties are in the same boat. These counties are home to six of the CBBN’s seven schools, four of the CWAC’s seven members and all five of the SCAC West schools.
According to the return-to-activity guidelines released by the WIAA last month, football is identified as ‘high-risk’ and practice will still be non-contact and loaded with restrictions in Phase 3. The possibility of a game doesn’t start until Phase 4. Yakima County, while trending toward better numbers lately, isn’t close to reaching Phase 2 soon and the state has ‘paused’ all phase changes through at least July 28.
So to imagine reaching Phase 4 in September or even October feels like a wishful stretch in the extreme. It would be fantastic to be wrong, but we started in Phase 1 in May and we’re mostly still there.
It’s understandable that the other ‘moderate-risk’ fall sports, like volleyball and soccer, feel they have a shot at a season, and especially cross country and swimming as ‘low-risk’ sports. I sure hope that happens. But even so, I’ve talked to coaches who look at these safety protocols and shudder at the immense weight of it all. And, quietly, they wonder if it’s worth moving ahead with a tenuous season that could be shut down at any moment.
If a few kids test positive — and how will that not happen? — it will be tough to keep a green light from administrators in this climate.
What we’ve seen in recent days from the college ranks in the GNAC, NWAC and others — pushing all fall sports into the winter and spring — could well be in our future. There’s already been one delay, moving the start of practice to Sept. 5 for football and Sept. 7 for all other sports. It’s a brutal call and, like it did in the spring, the WIAA is likely to hold off as long as possible before hitting the shutdown button.
But as COVID-19 numbers stubbornly persist, and in most states continue to rise, there’s an undeniable trend regionally and nationally. With each passing day, even in July, there’s an inevitability in the air.
Fall sports are disappearing.
If that happens to our high schools, here’s a scenario that’s being explored: Everything moves to 2021 with shortened seasons and playoffs. Winter sports have January-February, fall sports March-April and spring sports May-June.
All kinds of major issues pop up with that idea, but the impetus is real. Fall sports simply may not be possible, and if so there’s got to be a way to salvage something for all three seasons. Nobody imagined we’d lose an entire spring season, and then we did. Nobody imagined the pandemic would last this long, but it has and now the fall is in peril. Some serious out-of-the-box thinking is required, so we’ll see what the WIAA’s Executive Board comes up with.
If it’s another timeline adjustment for the start of fall sports, the ultimate cruelty would be if other parts of the state reach Phase 3 and 4 and proceed while we are stuck and unable to participate. I realize we are responsible for our situation, but that’s messed up.
Whatever happens, and the next step comes Wednesday, be patient and understanding. Sacrifice is commonplace and nothing is normal so, to circle back, we buck up and deal with it.
And we report on it, which stinks.
But better news is coming. That, too, is inevitable.