Relief and trepidation were the overriding feelings for those involved in high-school sports across Western Washington on Thursday. Gov. Jay Inslee moved two regions — which includes King, Snohomish and Pierce counties — into Phase 2 of his “Healthy Washington” plan, meaning schools in those areas can compete in what are classified as moderate and high-risk sports such as football.
While thrilling to compete in competitive sports again, the intricate plans of how to keep everyone involved safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be tested. Many King County schools will start practicing Feb. 22 and competitions begin March 8. The traditional fall sports, including football, are up first.
But winter sports — which include girls and boys basketball and wrestling — are being pushed as far back as May to give ample time to be able to compete indoors. Currently, only intra-team scrimmages are permitted in Phase 2 for indoor high-risk sports.
Some leagues such as the KingCo Conference, which is aiming for a March 1 return to practice, are finalizing safety protocols and contemplating regionalizing competitions instead of dividing into the traditional Class 4A/3A/2A tiers.
There was already a shortage of officials, according to multiple athletic directors, and more might opt to not participate due to safety concerns, which could impact how many games teams actually play.
“We’ve had snow that interrupted the postseason a couple of winters ago, and we had the wildfires that interrupted the beginning of fall sports with the smoke in the air,” said Dan Pudwill, who’s president of the 24-school KingCo Conference and the Redmond athletic director. “But I’ve never developed plans, scrapped plans, developed plans, scrapped plans so many times in my life.
“Just having kids on our campus outside even if it’s in the wind or the rain and they’re working on their physical conditioning and they’re seeing friends they haven’t seen in almost a year and the positive emails we get from parents about allowing these kids to have this activity in their lives, that’s been worth it in and of itself.”
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association authorized the various leagues to determine their schedules this academic year. There will not likely be any regional or state tournaments. The North Puget Sound League, Metro League and KingCo are also leaning toward not having league tournaments in order to maximize the amount of games that can be played.
“Our goal is to provide as much opportunity for as many students as we can,” said WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman, who noted Inslee’s cautious approach to reopening the state after first initiating a shutdown in March 2020.
“That tells me I have a high level of trust that whatever they decide is going to be ultra conservative,” Hoffman said.
Although Phase 2 does permit high schools to have up to 200 people, including the teams, in attendance for football games, the NPSL, Metro and KingCo leagues haven’t decided if they’ll host spectators.
All plans still have to pass through district superintendents, and the counties permitted to move into Phase 2 have to maintain their metrics to remain able to participate in activities such as moderate and high risk high-school sports.
“The last thing you want to do is start and then have to stop,” said Tony Davis, who’s commissioner of football for the NPSL and Tahoma’s football coach. His squad has only gathered in small groups for conditioning twice a week since January. “It’s a very short window. All of these seasons have been reduced and the kids want to be a part of it, so they’re doing the things that they need to do to make sure they can participate.
“These kids will have stories to tell 10 years down the road. One of them will be about their resilience and how they’ve stuck with this. It’s exciting to see them get this opportunity.”
Kennedy Catholic football coach Sheldon Cross echoed Davis’ sentiment. Lancers senior quarterback Sam Huard, who can break several state passing records this season, had been working since his sophomore year to graduate in December 2020 to join the University of Washington on scholarship. When sports were canceled due to the pandemic, he canceled those plans.
Cross plans to hold “Senior Night” for the opening game to guarantee the star-studded class is honored.
“There have been so many up and downs,” said Cross, whose team was undefeated and seeded No. 1 in Class 4A before a loss to Woodinville in the 2019 state tournament quarterfinals. “It’s been 430 days since we played our last game. I counted. But we never lost hope this day would come.”
When will they play?
Season 1 (Feb. 22-April 17): Football, bowling, girls soccer, slowpitch softball, girls swimming and diving, volleyball, gymnastics, cross country and golf.
Season 2 (April 19-June 12): Baseball, basketball, boys soccer, boys swimming and diving, fastpitch softball, tennis, track and field and wrestling.
Season 1 (March 1-April 3): Football (Feb. 24), girls soccer, girls swimming and diving, cross country volleyball, boys golf, boys tennis and slowpitch softball.
Season 2 (April 5-May 8): Basketball, wrestling, gymnastics (March 29), boys swimming and diving.
Season 3 (May 3-June 12): Baseball, fastpitch softball, boys soccer, track and field, girls golf and girls tennis.
North Puget Sound League
Season 1 (March 8-April 17): Football (March 1), cross country, girls soccer, volleyball, girls swimming and diving, golf.
Season 2 (April 12-May 22): Baseball, fastpitch softball, boys soccer, girls tennis, track and field, boys swimming and diving.
Season 3 (May 17-June 26): Basketball, wrestling, gymnastics (May 10), bowling, boys tennis and bowling.
Season 1 (Feb. 22-April 3): Football, girls soccer, girls swimming and diving, volleyball, cross country, boys tennis.
Season 2 (March 29-May 8): Baseball, fastpitch softball, track and field, boys soccer, golf and girls tennis.
Season 3 (May 3-June 12): Basketball, wrestling, boys swimming and diving, bowling, gymnastics.
Nathan Joyce contributed to this report.