When COVID-19 struck in March, it ended the sports season at all schools in Washington state.
On June 10, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) provided the first indication that sports programs will return this fall.
In a statement, the sports governing body announced that “the WIAA intends to conduct a regular season and/or championships assuming the Department of Health (DOH) supports the recommendation.”
This statement brought reassurances to many. However, athletes, coaches and attendees can expect some new strict guidelines to ensure the safety of all participants.
Contingency plans are being considered such as postponing the start of the season to September 7 (September 5 for football). It is possible that this date could be moved back further.
WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman said that the alternative would be to start all athletic seasons on January 1. As of now, it is just a backup plan to condense all the sports and is subject to change.
“We understand that it’s not ideal…because we really try to not make kids choose, but I would rather have people upset that they have to choose than they just don’t get the chance [to play high school sports],” Hoffman said.
Cindy Adsit, Assistant Executive Director for the WIAA, said her organization will offer guidance to schools, but it is ultimately up to Governor Jay Inslee on whether or not fall athletics will take place.
The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) also released a document explaining some of the guidelines that athletes and coaches should expect to follow.
During Phase 1 and 2, all athletes and coaches are expected to conduct a pre-workout screening that includes a temperature check. No more than 10 people can gather to workout indoors during both phases.
In Phase 2, the six-feet-of-social-distancing requirement must be maintained in locker rooms and during workouts. Also, lower-risk sports such as individual running events, individual swimming, golf, sideline cheer and cross-country (with staggered starts) may resume with both practice and competition.
Furthermore, all athletic equipment and facilities have to be cleaned thoroughly during the day. The NFHS asks all athletes and coaches to wash hands before and after working out with equipment, and mandates that no water bottles be shared.
Phase 3 continues with rigorous cleaning of equipment and facilities. Any athletes or coaches who experience fever or cold symptoms within 24 hours of a meeting will not be allowed to participate in workouts. Gatherings of up to 50 people can take place indoors and outdoors.
Moderate-risk sports like soccer, tennis, swimming relays and seven-on-seven football may resume regular practice and competition. Higher risk sports like football and competitive cheer can begin modified practices during this time.
Overall, this fall sports season will be anything but normal. For example, social distancing must be maintained on buses to competitions and on sideline benches. Athletes are not required to wear face coverings, but they are encouraged to do so. Event officials are also recommended to wear a face covering and substitute whistles with other artificial noise makers.
Participants at sporting events will be grouped into three separate tiers. This tiering system will help control who is allowed to attend.
Tier 1 (essential) includes athletes, coaches, officials, event staff, medical staff and security. Tier 2 (preferred) includes media. Tier 3 (non-essential) includes spectators and vendors. No one from Tier 3 will be allowed to attend events until the Department of Health lifts mass gathering restrictions in Washington state.
Specific regulations for each individual sport are still being discussed, and scheduled to be released by the end of June after approval from the WIAA Executive Board. Athletes are eagerly awaiting these updates.
“I would be really disappointed if cross-country was cancelled because it is something that I love and always look forward to,” Peyton Quinto, a rising sophomore runner at Eastlake High School, said. “It’s one of the highlights of my year and without races to compete in, there’s definitely a lack of motivation.”
Allie Barrett, an upcoming junior at Eastside Catholic High School, shares this sentiment.
“I would be upset because soccer is how I bond with the incoming freshman and all of the girls in the beginning of the year,” Barrett said.
Hoffman, WIAA’s executive director, encourages all student athletes to keep training, stay fit and be prepared. But he wants them to remember to stay safe if practicing or working out.
As the state advances through each phase, it is clear that many health restrictions will remain out of necessity and the future of the fall athletic season will depend on how well the state controls COVID-19.