Are you ready for some football (and volleyball, soccer and cross country)?
On Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that seven of the state’s eight regions – including the East Region, comprised of Spokane and eight other counties – successfully met the requirements for Phase 2 of the state’s “Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery” plan, allowing for the resumption of competition in high school sports.
The East Region met three of the four COVID-19 metrics in order to move into Phase 2. Two regions – Puget Sound and West – qualified to move into Phase 2 on Jan. 29 and started practicing and holding competitions in fall sports with limited spectators last week.
The only region in the state that did not qualify was South Central (Tri-Cities/ Yakima/Kittitas areas). The earliest that region can move up is March 1.
When the initial metrics were announced on Jan. 7, regions had to meet all four metrics. The East Region met three of the four metrics at the time, with test positivity rate the only outlier.
The state relaxed the requirement to hit three of the four metrics, and in the previous set of numbers released on Jan. 28, the East met two of the four: hospital admissions and ICU occupancy. In Thursday’s numbers, the East missed out only on test positivity rate, as did three other regions.
In the Greater Spokane League, “Season 1” consists of traditional fall sports. Volleyball practice started under Phase 1 on Monday, with the season slated to start Tuesday. The rest of the traditional fall sports – football, girls soccer and cross country – will begin practice on Monday.
Week 1 of football is scheduled for Feb. 27, girls soccer kicks off March 1 and the first cross country meet is slated for March 6. Schedules should be available soon on the GSL and schools’ websites and NWPrepsNow.com.
“It feels great,” GSL director Ken VanSickle said. “We have a group text with all the athletic directors in the GSL, and everyone is super excited and happy for our kids and all of our athletes.”
He said getting back to a schedule will be a relief for everyone.
“This is obviously something none of us have ever had to deal with,” he said. “So it’s a relief that we have our schedules, we’re hopefully not going to have to change them, we’re going to be able to play. I just hope our numbers don’t fall back so we have to go back to Phase 1. But at this point I’m excited.”
On Wednesday, the GSL announced tentative dates for Season 2 and 3, encompassing traditional spring and winter sports. But fall sports are now on deck.
Volleyball was the first to get back to practice on Monday.
“We are very excited to be back in the gym,” Gonzaga Prep volleyball coach Jill Benson said.
“We keep saying it’s the asterisk year. Like, what else could happen? Like, ‘OK, now you’ve got to play, you haven’t really had time to practice much, but now you’re gonna play.’ We’re just moving forward and happy to be here.”
Benson want to make sure that this season and school year can be meaningful for all students.
“It’s important to this group of high school students – just give them a good experience, enjoy playing. Have something to be part of a community.”
She said her athletes are keenly aware of what they have to do to stay on the court.
“ ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I want to play, I want my teammates to be able to play.’ So I think that’s nice to be a part of. We all have to make good choices in order to be able to play.”
The league has plans in place in the event of positive cases or outbreaks.
“We are following the WIAA guidelines, and we worked really well with the Spokane Regional Health, and have come up with protocols.” VanSickle said. “We’re putting athletes in groups, so that way we can do some contact tracing, so if we do have somebody (test positive) we right away can tell who sat by who on the bus. Hopefully, we can limit possibly the amount of players that might be affected by it.”
Mead athletic director John Barrington was excited to have practices start in any capacity, but in Phase 2 the instruction will be more flexible.
“I think the pressure to do everything in Phase 1 was overwhelming,” Barrington said. “Coaches were willing to do everything they needed to do as far as guidelines, because they want that for their kids. But I think they’re excited about still following the protocols, but being able to conduct practices and continue to hope for the best.”
“We had a plan to go on Monday if we were still in Phase 1,” Mt. Spokane football coach Terry Cloer said. “But it was very limited and tough to get a football team ready that hasn’t made a tackle in 15 months since we played O’Dea (in the 2019 state playoffs). To go out with a mindset that we’re going to prepare for a football game, we know now that we have one in our sights, it’s a much better way to be going out to practice.”
Coaches around the region reacted with a mix of excitement and relief.
“My AD, when she called, she didn’t even say hello. She just said ‘We’re in Phase 2!’ ” Central Valley football coach Ryan Butner said.
Can he be ready with 10 practices?
“We’ll find out,” he said. “We’ll put in what we think we can and load them with it and see how it goes.”
Butner has missed out on the daily contact with players.
“Making sure that our coaches and kids are all pulling on the same rope, in the same direction, is going to be super important,” he said. “With a shortened season, with the protocols, how quickly we’re getting into it – there’s just so many factors we’re going to have to address that are out of the ordinary.”
Cloer has a senior on his team. He’s looking forward as a parent to see him and his classmates be able to celebrate their senior seasons.
“At times there were days I didn’t think it was going to happen. Hopefully, at this point it looks like it’s going to. So I’m optimistic.”
VanSickle had a message for any prospective athlete.
“I want kids to know this – we want you to come out. We want you to be part of a team. We want you to participate. Even though you may not have been able to do anything over the past several months, still come out and be part of a team, and play and be involved with your school.”
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