The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s Executive Board voted Tuesday to change its rules regarding religious observance when it comes to postseason competition.
The rule change was in response to a lawsuit by two tennis players from W.F. West High School in Chehalis. Joseph and Joelle Chung are Seventh-Day Adventists, which requires the observation of Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The state tennis tournaments wrap up on Saturdays.
WIAA rules mandate that an athlete who enters postseason competition commit to each level of competition they qualify for or face penalties as decided by the Executive Board. So, if an athlete enters a league championship, which could qualify him or her for district play, he or she must compete through a state tournament should he or she advance.
The Chungs said they could not make such a commitment because of their religious observances and were unable to play in the postseason, according to their law firm Becket, which is based in Washington, D.C., and specializes in religious cases.
The WIAA Executive Board added religious observance to the list of exceptions, with injury and illness, as reasons to pull out of postseason competition.
Becket, in a statement Tuesday, called it a “partial victory,” as the WIAA has not agreed to move entire state tournaments to accommodate the Sabbath.
“It’s a step in the right direction that Joseph is now able to play in postseason, but we will continue fighting for a solution that will ensure that Sabbath observers can compete all the way through the state championships on the same terms as all other student-athletes,” Becket’s Joe Davis said in the statement.
This isn’t the first time the WIAA has dealt with a lawsuit regarding the Sabbath and state tournaments. In 2017, the WIAA settled a lawsuit brought by parents of athletes who attend Northwest Yeshiva on Mercer Island. The Jewish Sabbath also begins at sundown Friday, which impacted the school’s play at the Class 1B state volleyball tournament. To settle that case, the WIAA agreed to move the tournament up a day to Thursday and Friday.