With much of the state still mired in “Phase 2” of Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase Safe Start Washington plan in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association on Tuesday announced some drastic changes to the high school sports calendar with the hopes of conducting seasons and culminating events for each of the sports it offers.
Those changes will create four WIAA-sanctioned seasons and will also move moderate- and high-risk team sports originally scheduled for the fall season to the WIAA Season 3 in the spring.
Previously, the WIAA had pushed back the start of fall sports practice to Sept. 5 for football and Sept. 7 for all other fall sports.
Now, football and volleyball, along with girls and 2B/1B boys soccer, are scheduled for WIAA “Season 3,” tentatively scheduled March 1-May 2.
“Since March, the philosophy of our association has been to allow students every chance to participate,” WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman said. “We’ve asked our executive board and planning committees to be as creative as possible in allowing for those opportunities.
“Because this is happening so incredibly fast we want to make sure we’re giving information for schools to plan, but also make sure everybody understands that when you look at dates, those are those are definitely written in pencil.”
At this time, the WIAA does not have a contingency if counties backslide into Phase 1 or if cases continue to rise into the first of the year.
The four seasons are:
- WIAA Season 1 (Sept. 7-Nov. 8): Cross country, slowpitch softball, girls swim and dive, golf (alternative season), tennis (alternative season)
- WIAA Season 2 (Jan. 4-March 7): Basketball, bowling, boys swim and dive, gymnastics, cheerleading, wrestling
- WIAA Season 3 (March 1-May 2): Volleyball, girls soccer, 2B/1B boys soccer, football
- WIAA Season 4 (April 26-June 27): Tennis, fastpitch softball, track and field, baseball, golf, boys soccer, dance/drill
Districts may choose to play golf and tennis in the fall, but postseason would still be conducted in Season 4. The viability of girls swim and dive taking place in WIAA Season 1 is dependent on more information from the Department of Health.
“We want to get kids back in school, back on the fields and courts as quick as we can,” said Greg Whitmore, WIAA Executive Board President and athletic director at Lind-Ritzville/Sprague High School. “We’re going to do all we can as an executive board to see that that happens.”
“We’ve seen this surge, not just in Washington but across the country, in (positive) cases,” Hoffman said. “And if we were going to be unable to start on Sept. 5 and 7, what are other opportunities we could provide students?”
The board recognizes that participation in any fall sports will depend on county progression through the phases laid out in the Safe Start plan over the coming weeks. The executive board will create benchmarks Tuesday to be met in order for WIAA Season 1 to take place.
If the benchmarks are not met, the board will plan to move the remainder of fall sports to WIAA Season 3.
Coaches will be required to survey players for health status. Anybody in close contact with a player or coach who receives a positive test will have to quarantine for 14 days, which could force a team to end its season early.
Each season consists of one week of preseason practice (two for football) and one week of playoffs or culminating events.
What those culminating events look like remains to be seen.
“At this point, we don’t know,” Hoffman said. “Part of the initial conversation has been that maybe we have more regionalized or sectionalized championships, to allow more teams to play.”
Football programs fund significant chunks of schools’ activities budgets. Whitmore said a priority was being able to conduct as much of a season as possible for the athletes, but also for the budgets.
”The financial piece is a huge part to all our considerations both within our association, and we know with our member schools,” he said.
Hoffman said it will be up to leagues and districts to determine scheduling and how each determines qualifiers for culminating events. But shorter seasons, comprised almost entirely of league games in most cases, will be the rule.
”It depends on your league makeup and that sort of thing,” Whitmore said. “As we put this together and further develop and get it out to athletic directors, they will know when their season begins, and … they’ll know when they have to have their qualifying teams to the WIAA so we can put them into whatever that bracket may be. And it may not look the same (as previous years).”
Questions of multisport and concurrent season eligibility, transfer between states in order to take advantage of multiple seasons of the same sport, and participation in club sports in the same season as high school are still being sorted out.
“There’s a lot of rules that will need to be reviewed,” Hoffman said. “The state of Washington has always been very careful to try to minimize overlap and give kids as much opportunity to compete in as many different activities as possible.”
The executive board and planning committees are working under the return-to-activity guidelines supported and co-authored by the National Federation of High Schools, Washington Department of Health and the governor’s office, as well as sport-specific guidelines set forth by WIAA committees made up of coaches, athletic directors, students, officials and local health professionals. Those guidelines can be found on the WIAA website.
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