WIAA releases updated guidelines for athletics and activities

— Created October 14, 2020 by Kacie Jo Voeller

By Kacie Jo Voeller

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) issued new guidelines for student athletics Oct. 6. School districts across Island County have been providing safe workout options for students as early as the summer and continue to monitor changing guidelines.

Paul Lagerstedt, athletic director for South Whidbey High School, said while the guidelines may bring large changes for some counties, Island County’s Phase III status had allowed workouts to take place prior to the new guidelines being released. Lagerstedt said the three school districts will review the updated guidelines and will continue to work with Island County Public Health to offer safe activities for students. 

“Across the state, different athletic directors are asking different questions and so I think like all things COVID, this is a process and it is ever-changing, but this represents a pretty big change, especially for a lot of the counties and districts in the state,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to be in Phase III already so we were able to do quite a bit already as far as what our teams were able to do.”

Conor Laffey, communication officer for Oak Harbor Public Schools, said Island County is currently considered to be in the WIAA’s moderate-risk category, but local projections predict the county will soon fall in the low-risk category. Laffey said due to this kind of fluctuation, the district will continue with its current plan, which is more conservative than the WIAA guidelines. He said Oak Harbor High School’s athletic director, Jerrod Fleury, has worked with the district and other island athletic directors to adjust accordingly as recommendations are updated.

“The new WIAA guidelines offer some leniency, but more importantly, they clearly outline metrics while defining what’s allowed in the different stages for each sport,” he said. “However, one of the biggest challenges is that the metric only looks at two weeks, causing counties from around the state to bounce between the different risk levels. To avoid this, we will continue with our current policy, which centers around workouts, similar to what you would see in the summer. The safety measures we have in place should ensure our student-athletes remain safe and as healthy as possible. After a couple of weeks, we will review the county data and evaluate our current plan to make the necessary changes under the WIAA and the Island County health department’s guidance.” 

Willie Smith, athletic director for Coupeville High School and Coupeville Middle School, said athletic directors and administrators from each district have collaborated to make plans and will continue work with Island County Public Health to establish guidelines and meet changing needs. Smith said consistency throughout the districts has been key in making plans to allow athletic activities to resume across the island.

“I think the island schools have been a pretty close-knit group anyhow, but at least from the coaching and administrative group, this has really brought the island together as a whole and it is pretty cool to live in an area where you can do that,” he said. “Three districts, three different sized high schools and middle schools and everyone is coming together and working together to make it work for everyone.”

Lagerstedt said across the districts, the importance of allowing students to be active and part of a team in a safe environment has been recognized.

“These times can be really tough on kids,” he said. “They want to get out, they want to be active and it is really important for their mental as well as their physical health. I am glad that our district recognizes that and supports that. Again, under the umbrella of safety first, we want our kids to have an opportunity to be out and be active and be a part of something that is bigger than them and be part of something that is goal-oriented.” 

Laffey said Fleury and the other athletic directors have worked with Island County Public Health to establish and maintain guidelines, including social distancing, temperature checks, cleaning and more.

“We are so thankful for the Island County health department,” he said. “From day one, we have had a great dialogue about our schools, students, and athletic teams. Without the county health department’s support and willingness to work with us, this would not be possible.  We have put a lot of time and energy into ensuring our students safely return to athletics.” 

Smith said the ability to offer athletic opportunities has been beneficial for student athletes who choose to participate.

“I think if you talk with our coaches, talk with our kids, talk with our administration, it has had such a positive impact on our kids to be able to do this,” he said.

Lagerstedt said staff members continue to strive to offer a place for students to enjoy athletics in a safe environment.

“I hope we can give these kids the best experience with high school athletics that we can and I think that is what people are working toward,” he said. “That is what our goal is and again, so is safety, and I feel everybody is on the same page trying to make this the best that we can.”

Laffey said staff have continually worked to help students return to sports in a safe manner.  

“We are so thankful to have a community that supports our athletic programs and coaches who genuinely care about the health and well-being of their student-athletes,” he said. “Getting students back on campus in a controlled and safe environment as possible continues to be our goal.”

            Smith said the ability to have students and coaches come together for workouts has had a positive impact on participants.

“For a little bit, it gives them (student-athletes) a little sense of normalcy, and there is just not a lot of that going around for the last few months,” he said.

For more information, visit wiaa.com.