Jacques Badolato-Birdsell had hoped to lead the Camas High School football team to a second consecutive 4A state championship this fall. But after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the prep football season, the senior running back has had ample time to reflect on his passion for the sport and the importance of his bonds with his teammates and coaches.
He reached some valuable conclusions in the midst of those ponderings.
“This year has not been what we all wanted it to be,” Badolato-Birdsell said. “(The time away from football has given us) a little bit of a benefit, but it’s also pulled us apart. Hopefully throughout the whole journey we learned something about our love of football and how much it means to each and every one of us, because when it was taken away, it was hard (to deal with).”
The wait ended for Badolato-Birdsell and his Papermakers teammates on Nov. 4, when they returned to Doc Harris Stadium for their first official workouts of the year. The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) created a special “open coaching period” on Sept. 27 and extended it through Dec. 19 to give as many schools as possible the opportunity to provide out-of-season activities during the pandemic.
Six Camas teams and nine Washougal squads are currently conducting coach-led practice sessions, according to athletic directors Rory Oster and Gary McGarvie.
“We’re limited in how many kids are on the field, and limited in how much contact we can have, if any,” Camas football coach Jon Eagle said. “We’ll go out there and play some catch and get some things done. It might be bare-bones, but we’ll try to move the team ahead if we can.”
Twenty-five of the Washougal girls basketball program’s 34 players signed up for the optional workouts, which began on Nov. 10.
“It’s totally different,” Panthers coach Britney Ervin said. “Usually our practices are more team-focused, but now it’s all about individual training and putting the ball in the basket. We can’t guard each other, touch each other or breathe on each other, so we’ll be grinding through a lot of fundamental skill stuff.”
“But the girls are excited to see each other again, build that camaraderie again,” she added. “Some of the players have been playing with their clubs, which is great, but a lot of the other girls don’t have that opportunity, so it will be nice for them to start building relationships with each other.”
Winter sports still scheduled for late December start
A recent survey of high school athletes across the United States suggests that the cancellation of youth sports since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll on their mental health and well-being.
The study, completed by a team of physicians, child health experts and researchers at UW Health, an integrated health system of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health found that approximately 68 percent of the 3,243 student-athletes surveyed reported feelings of anxiety and depression at levels that would typically require medical intervention, an increase of 37 percent from previous research studies.
“I feel like our No. 1 goal is (to boost the players’) mental health and give them some hope,” Eagle said. “For a lot of kids right now, their view is very bleak, and going into the winter won’t help because it will be dark and dreary. The coaches, honestly, in our heart of hearts, believe we can do nothing now and start practice in February be just fine. But we decided we want to do something for the kids and the community to lift up their spirits.”
Boys basketball, girls basketball, boys wrestling, girls wrestling, bowling, gymnastics, and boys swimming and diving are set to begin during the last week of December in Season 2 of the WIAA’s modified sports calendar. Football, volleyball, cross country, boys tennis, boys golf and girls swimming and diving are scheduled to start on March 1 for Season 3. Baseball, softball, boys soccer, track and field, girls golf and girls tennis will compete in Season 4, which is slated to begin in mid-April.
“I’ve been hearing from McGarvie that everything is on the table, though,” Ervin said. “They could change the order of seasons, or change the sports in each season. We might be pushed back to a different season. They’re talking about going from three to two seasons. There’s lots of moving pieces right now at the WIAA level. I appreciate all the hard work everyone put in to ensure we have something, though. They want everybody to have a season and don’t want to cut anything short for anybody.”
WIAA eyes end-of-season regional tournaments
According to the WIAA’s latest “return-to-play” guidelines, issued earlier this month, the state will be divided into three regions for the purpose of end-of-season “culminating events.” Region A consists of northwestern Washington from Seattle north to the Canadian border (WIAA districts 1-2); Region B consists of western Washington south of Seattle to the Columbia River (districts 3-4); and Region C consists of the entire state east of the Cascade Mountains (districts 5-9).
The WIAA determined that in order for a season to take place, 50 percent of schools in a region (by classification) must be eligible to participate in league games as per the COVID-19 metrics in the state’s Department of Health guidelines. If less than 50 percent of schools are able to compete in specific sports due to elevated cases, the WIAA will make an adjustment to the scheduled season in order to allow for greater participation, according to a news release.
The WIAA’s plan calls for eight-team regional championships to replace traditional state championship tournaments, a prospect that’s “a little bit disappointing” to Ervin, who led her team to a 2A state title in 2019.
“(We value) the experience of going to state and competing against teams we don’t normally see,” she said. “But honestly, we want to do what is best for kids. Keeping kids safe is the No. 1 priority, as it should be. These are unprecedented times, but for any sort of tournament we enter, we go in with a mentality that we’re going to win, and that’s not going to change, whether it’s a state tournament or a regional tournament.”