IHS basketball

If all goes well, the local basketball season will start in February.

RENTON — Most high school athletes won’t start their 2020 season until February 2021 under the latest plan announced Nov. 19 by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association.

As a previously planned late-December start for basketball and other sports became unrealistic amid a worsening covid outlook, WIAA turned to the fallback plan in hopes of getting some sort of a season for as many sports as possible. However, everything depends on what the state government will allow. With coronavirus spiking, Gov. Jay Inslee most recently issued a proclamation prohibiting youth sports competitions through Dec. 14.

The WIAA’s compressed calendar cut each sports season to seven weeks from a planned eight. Basketball is to start play on Feb. 7, with practice beginning Feb. 1, and will end March 20. Wrestling season is also theoretically set to take place during that time frame, but Ilwaco athletic director Tim Harrell has said that extremely high-contact sport will almost certainly not have a season this school year.

Season layout

WIAA is calling the Feb. 1 through March 20 slate “Season Two” because it has been permitting cross-country racing, golf and slow-pitch softball, though there have been few events.

In theory, Season Three will be a busy one for Ilwaco High School. Competition in volleyball, boys and girls soccer (in the B classifications), and the main cross-country season will begin March 15; football will start March 8. Season Three closes out on May 1.

Season Four, running from May 1 through June 12, will be time for baseball, track and field, and golf.

There will be no state championships. The state will be divided into four regions, one of which consists of Districts III and IV. District IV consists of Southwest Washington, while District III covers west-central Washington including the Seattle area.

WIAA will recognize a regional champion if eight teams in a region are competing. If Pacific County is cleared for sports, that would allow six teams (Ilwaco, Naselle, Willapa Valley, South Bend, Raymond and Ocosta) to compete in a 1B/2B classification. Adding Wahkiakum County would bring it to seven. Adding Lewis County, which has relatively low new-case totals right now, would by itself provide enough teams for a Regional B classification tournament.

However, WIAA also wants to avoid leaving too many teams out. The association stated in the press release announcing the new calendar that if less than 50 percent of schools in a classification statewide are unable to compete, “the Executive Board will make an adjustment to the scheduled season in order to allow the chance for greater participation.” It is not clear how this would actually work given the already-compressed sports calendar. The WIAA would undoubtedly be under heavy pressure from schools in relatively safe counties not to jeopardize a sports season while waiting for other schools.

State government’s role

On Oct. 6, Inslee made mandatory guidance similar to non-binding guidance that was previously in place. He banned high-risk sports in counties with over 25 cases per 100,000 in the previous two weeks and low- and moderate-risk sports in counties with over 75. With coronavirus spiking this month, Inslee issued a statewide ban on school and non-school youth inter-school competition Nov. 16 through Dec. 14. Practices and intra-team competition are still permitted under certain restrictions, but must not be held indoors (except for swimming and other water sports.)

Even when the guidance was non-binding, WIAA largely treated it as binding, pointing to the governor as the figure responsible for delaying the season. At the time WIAA did not criticize the governor, but rather sought to direct the mounting pressure away from itself. However, in a statement Thursday, the day after releasing its new calendar, WIAA went further. The organization began pressuring the governor to ease up on school sports in time for athletes to compete according to its new calendar.

“While there is conclusive evidence about the physical dangers of this virus among certain age groups and demographics, the Governor’s Office and Department of Health must factor in the impact restrictions have on our students’ mental and emotional health,” the statement said.

But the governor’s office isn’t the only figure the WIAA needs to go along with its plans. WIAA’s Thursday statement admitted that some superintendents are reluctant to offer sports when they haven’t returned to in-person learning. Describing this as a question of “optics and politics,” the WIAA countered that “education-based sports and activities have always been a key component of our school system. We cannot eliminate one portion of a student’s education because we had to modify another.” It added that sports can reengage students who have drifted away from Zoom-schooling.

WIAA executive director Hoffman concluded the Thursday statement by making clear he was not calling on the governor to revoke his rule now. “I understand that as I write this, we are seeing another surge in covid cases around the country as well as in Washington, and that we may need to wait before we begin competition again. But we cannot wait until covid goes away because students don’t have that luxury. They’re running out of time to make memories,” Hoffman said.

A spokesman for the governor, Mike Faulk, responded: “We would agree that this pandemic has taken other tolls on people’s physical and emotional wellness, but limiting the spread of covid-19 now is the best we can do to get things back to some sense of normalcy later. This is temporary. We are not waiting ‘until covid goes away’ — we are actively trying to get the pandemic under control so it will be safe for more activities to resume.”

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