What a difference a year has made for high-school sports in the state.
A year ago, no sports were being played and no one knew when, or if, any would be.
But today, full seasons are planned and state tournaments are back on the schedule after they were scrapped following truncated sports seasons in the spring.
Optimism has replaced despair, even though nothing is a sure thing with COVID-19, and the delta variant, still surging. Scattered schools across the state already have had to cancel games because of positive tests, but the line is still holding.
“I’m optimistic and I’m confident,” said Charlie Kinnune, Mount Si High School football coach, about getting a full season in. “So far, so good. We’re outside practicing, and kids are running around and coaches are flying around. And it’s fun. We’re masked indoors, and we’re not masked outdoors. I would like to believe we will have a full and normal season.”
Mick Hoffman, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, shares Kinnune’s optimism. He was heartened by the recent state mandates requiring public school staff be vaccinated.
“A lot of people don’t like it, but from our perspective, what we see is that vaccines are going to help contain and put an end to (COVID-19), and that gives us a better chance of playing through the fall and the winter,” Hoffman said. “And No. 2, I heard Gov. (Jay) Inslee specifically mention sports and not the need for masks while playing and practicing. That tells me they are thinking we are going to continue playing as well.”
Under school requirements released this month by the Washington State Department of Health, masks will not be required for outdoor sports or moderate contact indoor sports, such as volleyball.
Hoffman said the WIAA had been meeting weekly with the Department of Health and the governor’s office for months, and he is happy with the rules.
“In comparison to where we’ve been … and to be able to have the option of not to have to mask in all sports while there is a masking guideline for in-person learning, we felt that was definitely good progress for us,” Hoffman said.
Kinnune and Bothell football coach Tom Bainter say they aren’t paying much attention to COVID-19 news and are just going about their jobs pretty much as normal. Hoffman, whose organization has to be ready to change in a moment’s notice, is paying close attention.
“We hear about this other (lambda) variant that is potentially 60 days or so out, so we are trying to understand that because we are trying to predict as much as anything what we are facing,” Hoffman said. “Are we looking at schools locking down if we can’t get arms around this outbreak? Are we looking at a restriction of fans? If we get a restriction of fans and we can still play, we’ve got to scramble with contracts we have in big venues to go to smaller venues because we don’t need the space. …
“There are a lot of moving pieces to the business side of it, but the priority is getting kids out there to play.”
Hoffman said the WIAA has gotten used to “planning for any and all scenarios” and having different plans ready quickly.
“For example, we are awaiting school (COVID) guidelines on how that will impact officials,” Hoffman said. “If they don’t have to vaccinate, we have a plan, and if they do, we need to have a plan in place for how do we make testing or vaccines available to them. On top of that, if we have a lot of them who refuse to do that, what do we do with scheduling with even less officials? Contingency planning is what we have lived with for the last 18 months.”
Hoffman worries about what might happen when cold and flu season arrives, but remains hopeful for a rather normal year with the resumption of state tournaments. Those tournaments generate revenue for the WIAA, but Hoffman is looking at it from a different perspective.
“We are in the lifetime memory business, and state events are a big piece of that,” Hoffman said. “That’s probably the most emotional part of it — when we know kids who have waited four, five, eight or 10 years to have a chance to compete at that state level, and don’t get that opportunity. That’s why we’re scrapping to make sure we can find a way to provide that for kids even if we have to do it with contingency plans.”
Mount Si opens its football season Sept. 3 vs. Federal Way. COVID already has impacted the Wildcats’ schedule. Their Week 2 game vs. Lake Stevens was canceled because the Vikings had to shut down their program until Sept. 4 because of positive COVID tests. Mount Si added Yelm for Week 2.
The Wildcats hope their season ends in the first week of December in the Class 4A state finals at the Gridiron Classic, but just having a normal season would be reason to be thankful.
“I think it’s important for everybody,” Kinnune said. “We think of the athletes, but I think we forget about the kids who go to the games, the cheerleaders who cheer and the parents who want to see their kids do things,” Kinnune said. “I think it’s needed for everyone.”
The Bothell football team had a typical summer preparing for the season, including a supervised conditioning program. The Cougars open the season Sept. 4 at Moses Lake.
In 2021, normal is good. Very good.
“I see it as more toward normal, that’s what I’ve noticed,” Bainter said.