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Sports >  High school sports

Greater Spokane League athletic directors scrambling to keep up with changing directives

Jan. 21, 2021 Updated Thu., Jan. 21, 2021 at 10:17 p.m.

As the state inches closer to a possible return of high school sports, the area’s athletic directors are scrambling. Well, that’s not quite fair. They’re always scrambling.

But on top of their never-ending duties to begin with, the ADs have also been forced into the unfamiliar roles of public health information director and compliance officer all rolled into one.

Just like their students, teachers and coaching staffs, it’s been a day-to-day situation, forcing some of the most flexible staff in the sports world to be even more flexible than they already were.

“Virtual athletic director is not really a thing,” Ferris AD Stacey Ward said. “I would give anything for a 14-hour day, and kids, and games, and lunch basketball, and all of that.”

Yet, she and the other Greater Spokane League ADs continue to plug away in the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape with one goal in mind: providing as much opportunity as possible for as many student-athletes as possible – all while keeping them safe and following the state, association, league and school district guidelines provided to them.

Seems like an impossible task at times.

“It’s been a roller coaster for everybody, no matter what you’re doing,” Mead AD John Barrington said. “If you’re a business owner, teacher, student. The biggest thing, and it’s redundant to say it, but the kids need something.”

Last week, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association – in conjunction with the state’s “Roadmap for Recovery” – laid the groundwork for a return to competition. The Greater Spokane League followed with a staggered schedule for fall sports to begin.

Fall sports practices in Season 1 can begin as early as Feb. 2.

While those announcements provided hope, they are braced by the caveat that four specific COVID-19 testing metrics must be met in order for games to take place.

Ward said the region met three of the four metrics last week.

“The fourth (COVID-19 positivity test rate below 10%) is going to be a little harder to meet,” she said.

Even if a region can meet all four criteria one week, there’s no guarantee it will stay there the next, causing another shutdown.

“It’s a moving target,” Ward said. “It changes every day. We don’t know exactly what’s going on. But this gives the most people the best chance to play.

“We’re going to start, we’re going to do what we’re allowed to do. And we’ll hope for the best.”

“We’re all in the same boat,” Mt. Spokane AD Paul Kautzman said. “The starts and stops and recalibrating – we’re going to do this and then no we’re not, we’re going to do that – it drains you.”

The logistics of scheduling have been a challenge for the individual sports coordinators responsible for the task.

“It hasn’t been fun,” Kautzman said.

“Initially, when we got every adjustment or change, everybody gets to work on a new schedule,” Barrington said. “We did that two or three times. And then had to wait for the next shutdown.

“The last couple changes, we were a little bit more cautious about how we would attempt to roll it out.”

The WIAA and GSL moved traditional spring sports to Season 2 and winter sports to later in the spring with the hope that positive test rates come down to allow for the high-risk indoors sports to take place.

“I think it makes the most sense from where we’re at in Phase 1, where the numbers and metrics are likely to be going forward,” Kautzman said.

“We’re just hoping the kind of weather we’re having right now sticks,” Ward said. “The nice thing is just getting a start date on the books.”

Basketball and wrestling – indoor contact sports – will just have to wait for now.

“There’s not a phase built (yet) that would allow those competitions,” Kautzman said.

“(Winter sports) moving to Season 3, at least gives some hope to those sports to be able to happen,” Ward said.

“Parents want you to predict,” Barrington said. “The answer’s always been, ‘We’re planning on it happening.’ But we have no control.”

Kautzman expressed gratitude for the built-in flexibility from the WIAA to move things around.

“The WIAA afforded all of us the opportunity to tweak our schedules as needed – whatever fits our climate and our situation and our phase,” he said.

“I applaud them for them having that kind of foresight. And we’ll adjust.

“We’ll do what we can to get as many sports in through the end of the (school) year.”

It’s not just for the college-bound athletes missing an opportunity to impress recruiters.

“There’s always a constant reminder, at least when we meet as a group of ADs, that not everyone can do (club sports),” Barrington said. “If we don’t have (high school sports), there’s a lot kids that are don’t have the other opportunity. They have nothing.”

With the likelihood of state or even regional championships off the table, the ADs aren’t particularly worried about setting up “culminating events” for whatever seasons they’re able to salvage.

“I think that went by the wayside a little while ago when we realized we’d be able to do our own thing,” Barrington said. “The focus then was immediately on, ‘Let’s get kids opportunities to get back to some play.’ ”

Othello joins GSL 2A for the year

When the WIAA divided the state into regions for COVID-19 protocols, the Central Washington Athletic Conference was fractured between three regions, leaving Othello as a team without a league.

Despite having several schools within easy driving distance, Othello was left out in the cold. That’s when AD Jenny McCourtie put her thinking cap on.

“If we’re able to play in the East Region and the other five schools in the CWAC aren’t, I was like, ‘We don’t have anybody to play,’ ” she said.

“I reached out to Chris Franklin (Pullman AD) and said, ‘Hey, what do you think about us joining your league?’ To be honest, (the GSL) was so great about it.”

The GSL ADs voted quickly to bring Othello in, and the principles of the member schools confirmed the decision this week.

“I’m super grateful that the GSL ADs and principals approved us,” she said. “That was fantastic.”

McCourtie has already met via Zoom with her new colleagues about schedules and protocols.

“We’re just trying to get everything situated and ready to go,” she said. “The coaches seem to be excited to play teams we don’t typically play all the time.”

This is the first year the GSL is scheduled to play in a 4A/3A/2A league after the reclassifications based on the free/reduced school lunch policy.

“If we can help out Othello, which has just been placed out on this island through no fault of their own, it makes sense,” Kautzman said.

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