The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the lives of high school students in Sammamish, moving daily routines into the virtual classroom. It has been especially disruptive for the training of many student athletes. With school buildings closed to students, public schools have opted for no athletic practices. However, private schools such as Eastside Catholic (EC) are not under the jurisdiction of a public school district, making it easier for them to modify protocols and accommodate training for all athletic teams.
EC is currently the only school on the plateau that has been able to resume sports. Since early fall, EC has welcomed its athletic teams back to campus to continue practices with restrictions. According to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), if the amount of COVID-19 cases is considered high (greater than 75 cases per 100,000 people every 14 days) then team practices can only resume if players are limited to groups of six in separate parts of the field or court, and separated by a buffer zone.
Currently, King County has about 108 cases per 100,000 people over two weeks. Therefore, EC is conducting sports practices while adhering to WIAA guidelines. All athletes are required to have a medical checkup completion form and COVID waiver form on file with the school. Moreover, prior to each practice, coaches and athletes are subject to temperature checks and screening questions that are then reported back to the school.
Stacey Stoutt, Athletic Director at EC, explained that the decisions made by superintendents of the Issaquah School District (ISD) and the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) affect multiple schools under their jurisdiction. Therefore, enforcing safety protocols uniformly across all schools becomes complicated. Being a private school with a smaller student population, EC is exempt from some of the school district mandates.
“We are different in that way,” she said. “We only have one school to worry about and even though we are not in school right now, bringing kids [students] up in very controlled groups, whether it is for a science lab or for a retreat or for the PSAT, we can still do that because it is a lot more controlled.”
Practices are being carefully scheduled to avoid a large number of athletes possibly congregating on campus. Modified practices have been possible for higher risk sports as well. For instance, wrestling team practices are focused on strength and conditioning, while avoiding any physical contact.
EC has not seen any spread of COVID-19 across the teams. However, they have reported two positive cases in the school.
“Have we had practices canceled? Yes,” Stoutt said. “There have been two positive cases. What happens then is we go to the close contacts, their practices are shut down or canceled until the close contacts have got tested and we have their results.”
The teams are taking proper precautionary measures and no other tests have come back positive, Stout said. The school is confident that its pre-practice protocols are effective because COVID-19 has not spread to an entire team.
Unlike EC, Eastlake and Skyline high schools have been unable to resume athletic practices. LWSD and ISD, their respective school districts, have determined that it is currently unsafe for practices to commence due to the upward trend of COVID cases in the past few months as reported by the Washington State Department of Health.
Brent Kawaguchi, the Athletic Director at Skyline, said that their coaches are in contact remotely with athletes, giving them workout plans and encouraging them to stay active. John Applegate, LWSD Director of Athletics and Activities stated that their coaches are also doing the same.
“WIAA has provided an open coaching window, which began on September 28 and will conclude on December 19,” said Applegate.
Open coaching windows typically close in August, meaning that coaches are not allowed to contact any of their athletes about game plans, strategies or athletic instruction until the start of the season. This rule, however, has been adjusted this year to allow for athletes and coaches to stay connected virtually, even if the season is postponed.
Some schools disapprove of EC’s decision to have in-person practices, but Stoutt justifies that the school has the resources and is adhering to the WIAA’s rules in doing so.
“Right now, we are not focusing on game planning, we are focusing on team building and just connecting you guys [student athletes],” she said.
Both Applegate and Kawaguchi share Stoutt’s sentiment, even if their school’s practices look a little different and are not in-person. Kawaguchi emphasizes the need for connection amongst students and hopes that the curve of rising COVID-19 cases will flatten soon to allow students to resume sports once again.