The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has delayed all sports for one month and shortened the length of each season to seven weeks, the organization announced in a press release early Wednesday morning.
The update comes as Washington state sees increasing COVID-19 cases, including over 2,000 cases a day this past weekend, and average cases in the state doubling over the past two weeks. Washington state was at 213.5 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period with a 7 percent positivity rate over the last week, as of Wednesday morning.
W.F. West Athletic Director Jeff Johnson was optimistic about the news as student-athletes still have the opportunity to don jerseys and pursue a three-sport season, even if they are shorter than previously planned.
“We still have a pulse!” Johnson said in an email Wednesday morning. “Options are getting extremely limited and none of this is desirable, but at this state of the game, we have shifted our mindsets to being hopeful and grateful, and have a strong desire to make the most of future opportunities.”
Season 2 sports, which were previously set to begin practice Dec. 28, will now start Feb. 1 (Jan. 25 for gymnastics), and conclude the regular season on March 14. Those include the high-risk sports of basketball and wrestling, along with bowling, gymnastics and boys swim and dive.
Season 3 sports, which consist of traditional fall sports, begin on March 15 (March 8 for football), and end on May 1. Season 3 sports include football, cheerleading, cross country, slowpitch softball, girls soccer, 1B/2B boys soccer, volleyball and girls swim and dive. Season 4 sports, which consists of traditional spring sports, begin practice on April 26 and end June 12. Those sports include baseball, fastpitch, golf, 1A-4A boys soccer, tennis, track and field and dance/drill.
Each season will also conclude with a regional championship rather than a traditional state championship, and Adna girls basketball coach Chris Bannish predicts that District 4, which includes all of Southwest Washington, will band together and come up with its own season.
“Realistically, we’re not really playing for a big-time title or anything this year,” Bannish said. “It’s more about getting kids active and getting them back to a normal lifestyle.”
The best chance of all teams playing, he said, is to try and move sports around, depending on their risk level. He suggested moving low-risk sports (cross country, golf, swim/dive, tennis, track and field); and the moderate-risk sports (baseball, bowling, gymnastics, soccer, softball, volleyball) to Seasons 2 and 3 in February and March. And pushing back the high-risk sports of basketball, football and wrestling to Season 4 in late April.
“It does us no good to do basketball in February when we all know it’s going to be a high-risk deal, unless we move it to moderate-risk,” Bannish said. “They need to try and get the low-risk sports going now. I think we’re probably toast at this point. I think everybody will lose a calendar year. I think we’ll start right where we left off last year.”
The announcement comes on the heels of Gov. Jay Inslee’s new statewide restrictions announced Sunday, which included pausing indoor practices through Dec. 14. An exception is that pools can remain accessible. Lewis County prep teams have been able to practice indoors and outdoors since the WIAA opened its practice period on Sept. 28. The governor’s office still allows outdoor practices with facial coverings required at all times. Low- and moderate-risk sports may hold intra-team scrimmages, while high-risk sports are still limited to pods of six or less.
For now, teams and school districts are focusing on what they can control for the time being. Some local basketball teams have already taken their practices outdoors. Thurston County has required schools to practice outdoors-only since workouts opened up Sept. 28, Rochester Athletic Director Jesse Elam said in an email Tuesday.
Rochester girls basketball coach Davina Serdahl has had her squad practicing at the uncovered outdoor courts at Grand Mound Elementary School at 4 p.m. the past couple weeks. There are no local parks to practice at. Even that is slowly coming to an end as daylight gets shorter and shorter. Thursday’s sunset is around 4:30 p.m.
“These are the obstacles we are faced with,” Serdahl said in a text message Tuesday. “Very frustrating to say the least. I think now we are all on the same playing level in the sense that all counties now have to practice outdoors.”
At least one local school has suspended practices entirely. Adna shut down indoor practices Monday and extended it to outdoor practices on Tuesday.
“Hoping to get another shot sooner than later,” Adna Athletic Director K.C. Johnson said in an email Tuesday.
And some outdoor sports teams are still taking advantage of this time to get practice in. Tenino girls soccer coach Kevin Schultz and his Beavers are currently working out on Tuesdays and Thursdays on the turf soccer/football field. Onalaska football coach Mazen Saade said his team is still going strong with practices out on the field. Napavine football coach Josh Fay is also planning to get some outdoor conditioning in soon after indoor practices were closed.
One sport, wrestling, is still trying to get a single practice in. Wrestling teams haven’t been able to practice since March, before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and forced statewide restrictions. The WIAA’s current guidelines require no-contact drills during practices, which has left grapplers off the mats for eight months now.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” Rochester wrestling coach Jason Dick said. “Wrestling is definitely a high-risk sport. It just really sucks. It’s really hard on the wrestlers, it’s hard on me, it’s hard on all of us right now.”
Even more, the WIAA announced Nov. 2 that 50 percent of schools in a WIAA region must be eligible to participate in league games for a season to take place. High-risk sports are unable to compete in league games until their county reaches less than 25 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period and fewer than a 5 percent positivity rate. Lewis County was at 140.9 cases per 100,000 over a two-week period and has a 6.3 percent positivity rate, as of Wednesday morning. If less than 50 percent of schools in a classification are able to compete in a sport, the WIAA executive board will make adjustments to the season in order to allow for greater participation.
Due to the delay of Season 2, the WIAA has also approved an extension of the open coaching window to Jan. 23, which allows coaches in all sports to work with student-athletes in the same fashion as the summer coaching window.