Area athletic directors keep waiting for answers on what the fall season might look like as Yakima County’s reopening lags behind most of the state.
It’s clear no high school sports will take place unless the county can significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19 and move into Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s ”Safe Start” plan. Any hope of typical summer practices seems all but gone with more than 1,000 cases confirmed over the past week and advancing two phases in time for a scheduled Aug. 26 start (Aug. 21 for football) appears unlikely.
The WIAA announced Wednesday it could potentially push the beginning of practices back to Sept. 7 (Sept. 5) for football. Even then, Yakima County would need to significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19 by mid-July to meet guidelines established by the state and county health departments, which have informed the WIAA’s guidelines.
“We still meet and hopefully we’re all ready to go,” Eisenhower athletic director Paul Stephens said about the Big Nine. “If we’re not ready to go we don’t want to hold anybody else back.”
Wednesday’s release confirmed the WIAA would be willing to host a state tournament even if not all schools can participate. Ellensburg athletic director Cole Kanyer said with Kittitas County already in Phase 2, he’s discussed the possibility of creating new schedules if the Bulldogs can’t compete against the CWAC’s Yakima County members.
Shortly after a remote meeting with other SCAC athletic directors, Zillah’s Rock Winters said schedules are set and he’s eager to give anxious players and coaches the green light as soon as it’s allowed by the state. Naches Valley’s Ty Kime said the league’s ADs hope to make more determinations after their meeting on July 15 with more guidance from the WIAA.
More changes could be necessary, including what Kime referred to as “a la carte” scheduling with competitions set only a couple weeks in advance. Selah’s Jake Davis said he’s started talks with six other athletic directors about a potential Yakima County league featuring Upper Valley and Lower Valley divisions should the county get left out of WIAA competition.
State superintendent Chris Reykdal said Thursday he’s planning for everyone to return to classrooms this August, but the WIAA’s new guidelines state athletics can take place even with distance learning. Davis said sports can be crucial for mental health with 40% of Selah students participating, and Kime agreed it’s important to do whatever it takes to bring back sports.
“We want to get kids in and participating because we know the value athletics have in classroom and engagement,” Kime said. “I can see a lot of things happening and from this spring I’m not ruling anything out as far as sport by sport.”
That could mean sports like cross country return earlier than those requiring more athletes and more contact, such as soccer or football. Eisenhower cross country coach Phil English said adjustments could be necessary for the popular Sunfair Invitational at Franklin Park, including staggered starts and spreading it out over multiple days.
Davis said Selah’s already thinking proactively about PPE and its insurance company sent out a list of symptoms to watch for in athletes. Stephens believes testing will be crucial and said he’s already worried about the increased risk inherent in winter sports, especially wrestling.
Like most athletic directors, Winters said the school remains committed to following state guidelines but wants to see more clarity from the WIAA. He stressed the need to move forward cautiously to avoid making a dangerous situation worse for the larger community.
“If we were to start sports this fall and then we hear that, ‘oh, there’s a couple athletes on the Zillah football team that have coronavirus,’ who’s going to want to play us?” Winters said. “It’s frustrating. But we’ve got to be patient. There’s so many people throughout the world suffering more than us. Sometimes we’ve got to look at ourselves as pretty fortunate."
Toppenish AD Brett Stauffer expressed frustration with the politics involved and said Selah’s decision to ignore the governor’s orders and allow the Yakima Valley Pepsi Pak to play baseball should be looked as a test case. If it poses no danger to public health and the state doesn’t step in, Stauffer suggested schools could perhaps play this fall without the state’s approval, though he acknowledged that wouldn’t be allowed by all superintendents.