A litany of logistical questions pop into Washougal High School boys basketball coach AJ LaBree’s mind whenever he thinks about the feasibility of high school sports teams engaging in competitive events during a deadly pandemic.
How would players and coaches travel to events? How many spectators would be allowed to watch the events? What happens if an athlete or coach is diagnosed with the coronavirus? And even if all of those questions are answered, who would monitor and enforce the protocols?
“While it doesn’t seem too tough to have a basketball game with the same type of atmosphere that you see in college games on television, where there is no crowd and everyone is relatively safe, we have to remember in high school we don’t have access to many of the amenities that college teams do,” said LaBree. “We wouldn’t have any type of consistent testing for the virus among players and coaches, (and) we don’t have team doctors.”
LaBree is one of several local coaches and athletic directors who have expressed doubts that high school sports will begin in Washington in early February as currently scheduled.
“I will have to see the first regional health numbers,” said Camas High School Athletic Director Rory Oster, “but I have a hard time believing the Southwest Washington numbers will be good enough to allow sports to happen on Feb. 1.”
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) voted to amend its season schedule earlier this month, moving the start date of traditional fall sports from mid-March to Feb. 1 and delaying the beginning of traditional winter sports to a yet-to-be-determined date.
“The change was unexpected,” said Camas girls soccer coach Keri Tomasetti. “However, the timing makes sense if districts intend to allow all sports an opportunity to potentially play.”
“Moving fall sports to ‘Season 1’ starting Feb. 1 will pose some hurdles, but we all know what to do when approaching a hurdle — jump over it,” added Washougal slowpitch softball, fastpitch softball and boys wrestling coach John Carver. “Facility use and scheduling will need to be approached with some flexibility. I am hoping all three sports seasons get to be played in the WIAA’s suggested ‘condensed’ format — seven-week seasons ending with a regional championship or league championship. This is far better than to have all of our athletes lose out on their respective seasons.”
The WIAA announced the change one day after Washington Governor Jay Inslee introduced the “Healthy Washington — Roadmap to Recovery” plan, which outlines a new set of guidelines and metrics for the resumption of education-based athletics and activities in Washington.
The two-phase plan divides the state by geographic regions instead of counties. Clark County is in the Southwest Region along with Cowlitz, Skamania and Klickitat counties.
The entire state will begin in Phase 1, which permits practice sessions for low-risk indoor sports in groups of five or fewer and non-restricted practice sessions for low- and moderate-risk outdoor sports. In Phase 2 of the plan, low- and moderate-risk indoor sports can hold competitions, and all outdoors sports can hold competitions.
“The change in guidelines allows all traditional fall sports to be played in Phase 2, while we still do not have a clear pathway to the high-risk indoor activities of basketball, competitive cheer and dance and wrestling,” WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said in a statement. “With that in mind, moving fall sports to Season 1 will hopefully provide the most opportunities to participate.”
Washougal High School girls basketball coach Britney Ervin said that the “basketball season has the best chance of happening this year now that it has been pushed back.”
“My initial response (to the delay of winter sports) was disappointment in this ongoing challenge of a year,” she said. “However, as I sat and thought about it more, I do think that this result is going to benefit girls basketball and winter sports. Basketball and wrestling are just about as close contact as you can get while inside. In postponing our season, we are giving time for vaccine administration and keeping our student-athletes and community safe from exposure. We also get more time to allow our region to reach the numbers necessary to participate.”
To move into Phase 2, a region must meet all four of the following metrics: a decreasing trend of greater than 10 percent in the two-week rate of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 persons; a decreasing trend of greater than 10 percent in the two-week rate of new COVID-19 hospital admission rates per 100,000; total intensive-care unit occupancy of less than 90 percent; and a COVID-19 test positivity rate of less than 10 percent.
The updated plan “seems to further complicate the start of high school sports,” according to Camas girls basketball coach Scott Thompson.
“It looks like we have now lumped all high-, moderate- and low-risk outdoor sports into the same phase,” he said. “This will cause us to keep pushing sports farther and farther away, and we are going to have to make a decision if we are going to cancel or put these sports seasons on top of each other. All this is looming while we could easily be playing low-risk sports right now. (In the new plan), golf plays in the exact same phase as high-risk sports such as football, yet golf courses have been open all over the state of Washington this entire time.”
The WIAA has granted each league or district the ability to reschedule seasons to best fit their local communities and will continue to work with the state’s Department of Health to gain more clarity surrounding the updated guidelines, according to a statement on the WIAA website.
“The WIAA is making a decision which still allows athletes to participate in three different seasons for as much of the remaining school year as possible,” said Camas boys basketball coach Ryan Josephson. “Any other decision would result in cancellations of certain sports or further reducing the length of the seasons. I am happy that the WIAA is doing its best to maximize opportunities for athletes to play.”
WIAA executive board members will discuss options for the start dates of winter and spring sports at their next meeting on Tuesday, Jan 19.
“I really have no idea (what’s going to happen),” said Camas wrestling coach Cory Vambaur. “The world is in a tough place right now. I do understand that the state and school leaders are having to make some difficult decisions.”