As athletes, coaches and fans inch closer to the scheduled resumption of high school sports in Washington, the state’s governing board has further revised its criteria for returning to play this school year with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Monday meeting, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association executive board approved a process for determining the status of upcoming WIAA seasons during the 2020-21 school year. Those criteria were released Tuesday.
The board developed minimum season eligibility requirements and outlined the timetable for decision making. It also created WIAA “regions” and adopted regional culminating events instead of state tournaments.
Per the WIAA’s modified sports and activities calendar released last month, WIAA Season 2 (basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, bowling, boys swim and dive) is scheduled for preseason practice to begin Dec. 28 and season to start Jan. 4.
“While the process and benchmarks were outlined by the board and WIAA staff, the decision was a collaborative effort involving a survey of member school athletic directors to gather input to support the board in its decision making,” a WIAA release said.
The board and staff also received input from the WIAA Student LEAP Committee, according to its release. The next board meeting will be Nov. 17.
Three regions have been established for the purposes of 2020-21 WIAA culminating events:
Region A: WIAA Districts 1 and 2
Region B: WIAA Districts 3 and 4
Region C: WIAA Districts 5-9
The Greater Spokane League (District 8) has three 4A members (Central Valley, Gonzaga Prep, Lewis and Clark), six 3A members (Cheney, Ferris, Mead, Mt. Spokane, North Central, University) and six 2A members (Clarkston, East Valley, Pullman, Rogers, Shadle Park, West Valley). North Central will play football in 2A.
There are 15 4A schools in Region C (comprised of GSL, Mid-Columbia Conference and Big 9), 10 3A schools (GSL and MCC) and 13 2As (GSL and Central Washington Athletic Conference).
There are 22 1A schools, 33 2Bs and 35 1Bs among the five districts.
“For this year, the best we can do is be the Region C champions and that’s what all of our teams will be shooting for and that’ll be their goal,” GSL Director Ken VanSickle said.
“I think players and parents will be thrilled if we get that opportunity to play.”
The board determined that 50% of schools in a WIAA region (by classification) must be eligible to participate in league games for a season to take place, as per the COVID metrics in the Department of Health guidelines, using the data provided on Washington’s Risk Assessment Dashboard.
Last month, the WIAA issued guidelines for return to athletics and activities, which set up parameters based upon positive cases per 100,000 residents per county and percentage of positive cases.
To play league games for low- and medium-risk sports, cases must be below 75. For high-risk sports such as football, basketball and wrestling, the rate must be below 25.
“All we can do is be prepared for our athletes, hope for the best, hope that the numbers go down,” VanSickle said. “Hope that our athletes get an opportunity to participate.”
On Tuesday, Spokane County’s daily testing rate during the prior week was 224.7 positive cases. None of the counties within Region C was below 25 cases. Stevens, Ferry and Douglas counties were between 50-75 cases and only four (Garfield and Columbia in southeast Washington, Klickitat in north central and Okanogan in south central) were below 50.
“I realize we do have Pullman and Clarkston, but for the most part we’re all in Spokane County, so for the teams in the GSL it’s going to be all or nothing,” VanSickle said. “We’re all going to be in the same position.”
If less than half of schools in a region are able to compete in specific sports due to elevated cases, the board has the flexibility to move that sport to a different season to allow the chance for greater participation.
A final decision will be made three weeks prior to the beginning of each season.
In an effort to reduce travel and address eligibility variances from different areas of the state, each sport will conclude with a WIAA region-culminating event during the final week of its scheduled season.
“I really feel with COVID that this was the best decision for our athletes, our coaches and our fans,” VanSickle said.
“It’s one of those things where we want to reduce travel with kids on buses, we don’t want any overnight travel, and it just doesn’t make sense to send a team over to the coast, over to the West Side – a 5-, 6-hour bus ride, staying in a hotel … especially if we don’t know if we’ll be able to have fans in the stands. It isn’t ideal, obviously, but it’s our hope that our athletes play and that we have some type of culminating event.”
The minimum requirement to hold a regional event is eight participating schools within a single classification of a region. If a classification cannot meet that requirement, it will have the option to combine with another classification in the region for the culminating event.
With Spokane, Yakima and the Tri-Cities so geographically spread out across Eastern Washington and central Washington, the possibility exists that some counties will be eligible and others not.
“We can’t control the future,” VanSickle said. “All we can do is plan for our tournament. We’ve already done that. We’ve had meetings with the MCC and the GSL, the Big 9 and the CWAC league with the 2As. We’re already planning for these regional championships.
“If something happens where one of the regions can’t participate, then we’ll adjust and have some different kind of culminating event.”
The full document outlining the decision-making process and timetable can be found on the WIAA website.
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