WIAA releases tentative plan for high school athletics

— Created July 29, 2020 by Kacie Jo Voeller

By Kacie Jo Voeller

As back-to-school season approaches, questions about what the 2020-2021 school year will look like in the wake of COVID-19 continue to grow, and the athletic aspect is no different. As of July 21, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) released a statement including a plan for athletic activities which included keeping low-risk sports in the fall season, while moving what are considered moderate or high-risk activities to an additional spring season.

The WIAA’s plan includes cross country, slowpitch softball, and alternative seasons for tennis and golf as the first season of four starting Sept. 7. Depending on guidelines from the Department of Health, the first season may also include girls swim and dive. Girls soccer, 1B/2B boys soccer, volleyball and football have been moved to a third season in the spring of 2021. For a full list and tentative calendar, visit wiaa.com.

Mick Hoffman, executive director of the WIAA, said the organization aims to provide safe ways for youth to participate in athletics in the upcoming year.

“Since March, the philosophy of our association has been to allow students every chance to participate,” he said. “We’ve asked our executive board and planning committees to be as creative as possible in allowing for those opportunities. These are tough and unprecedented decisions to make, but it has been inspiring to see so many people around the state come together to work on behalf of students.”

            Greg Whitmore, the board president for WIAA, said the association sees the importance of athletics and has been working to provide students with the chance to safely play their respective sports in the upcoming year. 

            “Again the whole goal, knowing all of us have recognized the value of athletics in our kids’ world, in their education, in their mental health, it becomes a balancing act: how do we keep kids safe and how do we  take care of the mental health aspect of it by offering athletics?” he said. “That was our focus all year, and obviously we are at the mercy of COVID-19 and science and some of our guidelines given to us by the state Department of Health.”

            At the local level, Mike Lonborg, a soccer coach for Oak Harbor High School and president of the North Whidbey Soccer Club (NWSC), said keeping youth active remains a high priority.

            “From what I have seen, kids that are active and doing things are better off socially, physically, emotionally, and across all the other spectrums,” he said. “I think sports and activities are really imperative for kids’ growth and I hope people remember that.”

            Hoffman said although tentative dates have been set for each season, as information and guidelines change, the WIAA will continue to alter plans as necessary.

            “It is an incredibly fluid situation, and where we are at now could change tomorrow, it could change in a minute,” he said.

            Whitmore said the ability to stay up to date and work with new information will be key in the upcoming year. 

            “Certainly, we are going to do all we can to maintain all the sports and provide opportunities,” he said. “We know it may involve some rule changes at times, we will have to be flexible.”

            Lonborg said the new schedule, which features abbreviated seasons, will require adaptation on the part of coaches, players and all involved.

“When the season hits, if it does hit, it is going to be fast and furious,” he said. “We usually have a 16-game season and I am not sure how they are going to work getting 10 practices in before you start playing matches, but from what I have seen it is only a seven-week season. I am not sure how they are going to get games in and practices in and then have playoffs.”

Hoffman said the WIAA will continue providing updates as schools continue to refine their plans and new guidelines from state and health organizations become available. The board for WIAA will continue meeting to develop plans and criteria for what needs to happen for fall and future sports to take place, including how many counties will have to be in later phases and other benchmarks, he said.

“Because this is happening so incredibly fast, we want to make sure we are giving information for schools to plan, but also make sure everybody understands that when you look at the dates, those are definitely written in pencil,” he said.         

Lonborg said at the recreational and club level, the outlook for the NWSC’s Select Soccer Program and Recreational (REC) Soccer Program seasons is uncertain. He said the league faces considerations of referee availability and the potential limitations to play opponents from other counties for the Select Soccer Program. 

            “We were holding out hope for a season and no official decision has been made by the board,” he said. “I think chances are pretty solid that we will not end up having a REC season and I do not necessarily foresee us having a Select season either.”

            Lonborg said in addition to the changes presented by COVID-19, high school athletics on the island will undergo other transitions as well, with Oak Harbor High School joining the Northwest Conference after formerly being a part of the Wesco conference, and Coupeville High School moving from a 1A to 2B classification.

            “There is a lot of change with the leagues,” he said.

Lonborg said no matter what the coming seasons bring, the top priority of schools, coaches, and all involved is keeping athletic participants safe.

“We want to protect kids the best we can and I think the WIAA is,” he said.