ILWACO — September, the month when the weather begins to cool and students return to school, also marks the beginning of a new high school sports season, highlighted by football games under the lights, volleyball matches inside a raucous gymnasium and cross country meets with impossible-to-beat backdrops.
But as Washington enters month four of the covid-19 pandemic, with hundreds of new cases still being reported in the state on a daily basis, there are no clear answers for what changes will be coming to the 2020 fall sports season — if there’s a season at all.
Greg Whitmore, president of the WIAA Executive Board and athletic director of the Lind-Ritzville School District, said several different contingency plans are currently in the works for the fall sports season, but nothing is set in stone. Like many others, the WIAA is waiting to see where the chips fall.
One such contingency that’s been floated is the limiting — or elimination — of spectators at fall sporting events, and streaming the games for fans to watch instead.
Whitmore said that plan is rooted in the desire to get students out of their house and being active again. Professional sports leagues in the U.S. and throughout the world are either considering or have already moved forward with plans to return without crowds, but Whitmore said high schools — especially those in rural areas — face technological limitations.
“It’s not very sustainable to not have any crowds,” said Whitmore. “I don’t know what [the fall sports season is] going to look like.”
Ilwaco High School Athletic Director Tim Harrell echoed Whitmore’s remarks at the May 27 Ocean Beach School District Board of Directors meeting, saying there are a lot of unknowns with athletics at the moment. For now, he said, the best guidance is to follow the phased plans laid out in Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan. Pacific County has been in Phase 2 — out of four phases — since May 23.
“The reality is, will we see athletics next year? We hope so. We’re planning and scheduling like things would be normal,” said Harrell. “It’s a lot easier to cancel games than it is to schedule them, so we’ll kind of see where we’re at as things progress. It’s the unknown factor and where we fall in the phases that is going to dictate every one of our moves.”
The earliest Pacific County could reach Phase 4 is July 4, assuming each phase lasts the minimum three weeks and there are no public health setbacks. Phase 4 allows for the resumption of all recreational activity, regardless of whether it is outdoors or indoors.
Phase 3 planning
Phase 3, Harrell believes, is when the school can begin to look at getting students into the gym to work with their coaches. Under the Safe Start plan, outdoor group recreation and sports activities can resume with fewer than 50 people in Phase 3, and recreational facilities such as gyms and public pools can be used so long as the capacity does not exceed 50%.
“If we move into Phase 3, then we need to really have that conversation of can we have kids in the gym, and what do we need to do? There’s going to be that core safety protocol with temperature-taking, documenting who’s there, sanitizing and all that stuff,” Harrell said.
While the county waits to move into Phase 3, which could happen no earlier than June 13, Harrell stressed the need for the district to prepare a plan and schedule that could be implemented as soon as the county is given the OK to move to that phase.
“When Phase 3 comes, people are going to want action,” Harrell said, adding he’s started to receive inquiries from coaches.
OBSD Superintendent Amy Huntley said the district has already started taking action with the track, requiring people to sign-in before using it. Phase 2 allows for outdoor recreation involving five or fewer people outside your household. Huntley and Harrell said they planned on working more with each other to nail down the necessary plans.