OLYMPIA — In some alternate universe, Milton Hopkins, Jr. is about to play a fall season for his senior year of high-school football that could get him film highlights and potentially a slew of offers for free college.
But the-18-year-old quarterback for Seattle’s O’Dea High School lives in this universe, the one with a global coronavirus pandemic and social restrictions most people never imagined.
So instead, Hopkins on Thursday stood in a parking lot near the Capitol preparing to rally with others to ask Gov. Jay Inslee to find a way to allow the return of high-school sports.
Hopkins, who so far has one college scholarship offer, said students are worried that without a senior season, they may not get offers — and badly needed scholarships for college.
“It puts a lot of people in thinking mode, where they’ve got to think about not only themselves but their families, too,” said 18-year-old Hopkins. “Cause then their families got to worry about paying for a college education when they didn’t really have to.”
He and about 120 others gathered at the Capitol building Thursday evening calling on the governor to make sure teams could play this fall. The rally came after a petition — started by the Student-Athletes of Washington (SAW) and signed by more than 28,000 people as of Thursday — asked Inslee to allow school sports.
The group included Kennedy Catholic quarterback and future Husky Sam Huard, and Eastside Catholic defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau — the nation’s No. 1 football recruit for the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports.com.
It wasn’t all football players.
Malia Kuhl, a soccer player at Sammamish’s Skyline High School, said she too is focused on playing to get recruited.
“Ever since freshman year, playing in college has been such a dream, for me and other athletes,” said Kuhl, a 17-year-old senior, adding that she hasn’t played a full game since February.
Kuhl said she has two offers but is hoping to play a fall season to show her abilities.
The students’ pleas come amid a pandemic now known to spread easily among large gatherings. It’s a phenomenon seen most recently as schools and colleges begin reopening around the nation, with reported COVID-19 outbreaks, including at some high school and college sports activities.
At the same time, decisions on school sports seasons are local, a spokesperson for the governor said Thursday.
“As with all our guidance on schools, these are local decisions,” wrote Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee in an email. “Earlier this year the governor put out recommendations around sports and limiting them to help reduce the spread of COVID, but these are only recommendations (not enforceable) and they are based on which phase the counties are in.”
Mick Hoffman, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, said the decisions on fall sports linked back to Inslee’s four-phase coronavirus reopening plan announced this spring.
That plan set phases — the first and most restrictive, to the fourth and least restrictive — to restart some life without spreading the virus.
Since mid-July, when cases in the state spiked, Washington’s 39 counties have been frozen in whatever phase of reopening they achieved. The biggest counties — including King, Pierce and Snohomish — have remained in the second phase, which forbids large gatherings. No county has reached the fourth phase.
“As school started, there were concerns around … what are the optics of allowing students to come on campus, and have five kids in a pod kicking a soccer ball around when we’re not letting kids in classrooms,” said Hoffman over a Zoom call with media Thursday.
There were also concerns for insurance purposes if recommendations by the state aren’t followed.
“And so that in turn prevented schools from really being able to offer anything, even those schools that wanted to do it,” he added.
Washington is one of 16 states that has pushed high-school football to the winter or spring, according to MaxPreps. The other 34 states continue to move forward with a fall football schedule.
The vast majority of Washington’s high schools have adopted a remote learning model this fall as a further precaution against the continued coronavirus pandemic.
The WIAA initially announced the reorganization of its athletics calendar from three sports seasons to four shorter sports seasons on July 21. That moved football — as well as girls and small-school boys soccer and volleyball — to Season 3, which runs from March 1 to May 2. Football practice is allowed to start Feb. 17.