Prep sports to start in February amid uncertainty

Camas-Washougal high school athletic directors prepared for more delays

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Camas High School Sophie Franklin swings during a 2019 softball game. Franklin, a 2020 graduate, said she was shocked when her final high school softball season was canceled in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic upset high school sports last spring and has caused multiple delays during the 2020-21 school year, but Camas High School Athletic Director Rory Oster remains hopeful local student-athletes will be able to complete their 2020-21 sports seasons.

“While I still feel pretty optimistic and believe we will get a season in for all of our programs, I am a little hesitant on the February start date,” Oster said this week. “I think the beginning of March may be a bit more realistic. Depending on the information from the (Washington Interscholastic Activities Association) and health department in early January, our league will make a plan on when we will offer each sport.”

The WIAA’s executive board met Dec. 15 to discuss the planned Feb. 1, 2021 start date for high school athletics.

“A lot of the discussion was, ‘What do we do if Feb. 1 becomes a no-go date for some or all of our planned activities?'” WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said during a Dec. 16 Zoom call with the Washington State Secondary Athletic Administration Association. “So that conversation is going to continue.”

The WIAA dedicated three check-in dates — Jan. 4, Jan. 11 and Jan. 18 — to give Washington’s high school athletics directors a better understanding of where the state leaders are at when it comes to restarting prep sports this school year.

“We’re going to meet on Jan. 4 to review data across the state, understanding we likely won’t see a huge change in the number of cases. But we’re hoping that, as conversations are continuing in Olympia, we may see some changes in the metrics that cause the decisions on what can and can’t be played,” Hoffman said.

Greater St. Helens League athletic directors, including Oster and Gary McGarvie, the athletic director for the Washougal School District, will finalize their decisions about return dates after that Jan. 4, 2021 meeting.

By Jan. 18, regional directors will have decided which sports, by region, move forward with scheduled seasons.

McGarvie, the Washougal athletic director, said the uncertainty caused by the pandemic has been tough for the young athletes and their coaches.

“(This) has been very trying for all of our athletes and coaches for numerous reasons, but probably the No. 1 reason is in athletics, we’re so coordinated in everything that we do. We’re regimented in our schedules,” McGarvie told community members on Dec. 18, during an online “Tea Time with Templeton” event with Washougal School District Superintendent Mary Templeton.

“It’s frustrating for all of us,” McGarvie added. “It’s hard for me to meet with the coaches once every couple weeks and say, ‘It got changed again.’ The last message I had for coaches was, ‘They may change the seasons again. Get ready. You may get bumped.’ We’ll see what they do.”

Gov. Jay Inslee did not cover sports and other extracurricular activities in his recent update to school reopening guidelines, but WIAA leaders said they are hopeful state officials will use the latest data to also revise sports and activity guidelines.

“Once Jan. 4 rolls around, and if the governor lifts (the restrictions), we’re going to get our kids back in here and get going and get ready,” McGarvie said. “Our kids are super excited, and our coaches have been fantastic. They’re ready to go. They have everything planned out.”

“We’ve been doing this since June,” McGarvie added. “We were the first school to allow kids to come back on campus once the governor lifted the (restrictions) on buildings that could be open. Everybody kind of followed us on that, and we showed that it could work. We had great protocols in place, so our kids were healthy and safe when they got here, and we continued that.”

In November, the WIAA executive board pushed the start of Season 2 from late December to Feb. 1, 2021, and condensed the remaining seasons (2, 3 and 4) to a total of seven weeks — one week for practices, five weeks of regular-season competition and one week for a regional culminating event.

“Everyone has had to be so dang flexible, and our kids and coaches have been so fantastic, understanding that we’ve never done this before,” McGarvie said. “I’m convinced we’re going to have all three seasons. It’s going to be a little bit unique, but they are going to happen. The whole point is to get our kids a season, and I support that.”

Most of the Camas and Washougal teams that compete in outdoor sports, such as football, baseball, softball, cross country and soccer, are continuing to hold practice sessions with safety protocols in place, but Inslee prohibited similar workouts for indoor sports, including basketball and volleyball, in November.

“Our coaches are phenomenal,” Oster said. “They want nothing more than to be in the classroom teaching and coaching our student-athletes. Every time we have to make changes, they get to work and do what is necessary to make those changes. They inspire me daily on their commitment to serve the students of Papermaker athletics.”