Local ADs: New WIAA rules don’t change much, but high-risk sports in jeopardy

The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced two weeks ago updated processes for the resumption of prep sports, but some local athletic directors believe the most popular prep sports — football and basketball — are in jeopardy of being played at all.

On Nov. 3, the WIAA released its updated guidelines for resuming high school sports in the state. Most notable in its decree was the WIAA Executive Board determining that “in order for a season to take place, 50% of schools in a WIAA region (by classification) must be eligible to participate in league games as per the COVID metrics in the Department of Health guidelines.”

The WIAA has divided the state into three regions — Region A (Western Washington from Seattle to the Canadian border. District 1-2), Region B (Western Washington south of Seattle to the Oregon border, Districts 3-2) and Region C (East of the Cascades, Districts 5-9).

Grays Harbor and Pacific County schools reside in Region B, District 4.

While reaching the 50% barrier may prove to be difficult amid a rise in COVID cases across the state and Gov. Jay Inslee ordering for more stringent lock-down measures on Sunday, local athletic directors are concerned that for the “high-risk” sports of football, basketball and wrestling, scheduling adjustments may have to be made to have a season at all.

“At this point, I’m more concerned with being able to start seasons than finishing seasons. However, I don’t think these new guidelines really change much,” Raymond Athletic Director Mike Tully wrote in an email to The Daily World. “I think there is a pretty reasonable chance to meet the 50% threshold for low- and medium-risk sports like volleyball, baseball, fast-pitch and track. At this point, I’m a little skeptical about the sports currently classified as high-risk such as football, basketball and wrestling.”

New Aberdeen High School AD John Crabb also said it “will be very difficult to see our high-risk sports participating this winter season,” but added though the 50% participation benchmark will be difficult to reach, he is optimistic that some prep sports will be played in 2021.

“The 50% participation factor will be difficult to reach this upcoming season,” he wrote. “I feel more confident about the early and late spring seasons for sure. We are planning for these to happen.”

Tully also stated he believes there will be high school sports played this school year, though he’s not entirely sure what that will look like.

“At this point, I’m pretty confident that we will have some sort of sports competition at some point in 2021,” he wrote. “It may not be all the sports, and they may not look like they have in the past. If we have to wear masks and go without fans to make it work, that’s what we’ll do. I think every athletic director in the state is willing to do whatever is needed to get kids competing again.”

Both stated that the WIAA has been considering the idea of rescheduling high-risk sports to later in the spring as a solution to the dilemma.

“There has been talk of changing seasons. I don’t know if that will be a remedy,” Crabb wrote. “The concern then would be splitting up athletes to compete in more than one sport per season.”

“Our best bet with those (high-risk sports) is to get them reclassified as moderate risk, which the WIAA is working on doing, but they need approval from the state health department and governor’s office,” Tully wrote. “The WIAA is hoping that they might be able to get some sports reclassified from high to moderate or moderate to low if athletes wear masks while competing. They are also working to gather data from the schools that are allowing kids to practice during the current open coaching period, in order to show that having kids participate in sports doesn’t increase their risk of contracting COVID. Hopefully they are successful in doing so.”

Ultimately, playing high school sports may be a moot point as one major hurdle needs to be addressed before students can compete in prep athletics — and that’s getting students back in the classroom.

“I think, at least for Aberdeen, we need to get kids back in the building,” Crabb wrote. “Our reopening plan requires us to be in the moderate-risk level of less than 75 cases per 100,000 to allow us to bring kindergarten through third-grade students back in a hybrid (learning) system. Once we bring K-3 back in the building, we will open up facilities to athletics.”

Montesano AD Tim Trimble was succinct in his response to the questions regarding the WIAA’s updated mandates.

“We aren’t doing anything until we get some kids in school,” he wrote.

While Trimble and other ADs, coaches, student-athletes, parents and fans are forced to sit on the proverbial sidelines, states such as Texas, Florida, Utah, Missouri, Ohio, New Jersey and several others have been playing prep sports — including football — for several months.