A new turf was installed at the Montesano High School softball field and was dedicated on July 1 prior to an exhibition softball game featuring seniors from Montesano, Hoquiam, Elma, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, Adna and Forks. Forced school closures cancelled the 2020 spring sports season and continued threats of a potential COVID-19 outbreak have already disrupted the upcoming fall sports schedule. (Ryan Sparks | Grays Harbor News Group)

A new turf was installed at the Montesano High School softball field and was dedicated on July 1 prior to an exhibition softball game featuring seniors from Montesano, Hoquiam, Elma, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, Adna and Forks. Forced school closures cancelled the 2020 spring sports season and continued threats of a potential COVID-19 outbreak have already disrupted the upcoming fall sports schedule. (Ryan Sparks | Grays Harbor News Group)

Twin Harbors ADs in limbo awaiting WIAA decision

With the recent announcements from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to push back the beginning of the fall prep athletic season and an upcoming meeting that could further impact the 2020-21 sports year, local high school athletic directors find themselves stuck in a COVID-induced limbo heading into the dog days of summer.

After sending out a short, vague press release on Tuesday the WIAA dropped a bombshell the following day when it announced that the the first day of practices for the upcoming prep fall sports season would be pushed back from their typical start times in mid-August to the first week of September.

The ramifications of this decision were felt across the Twin Harbors as local high school athletic directors, already in a state of uncertainty after COVID-related shutdowns erased the 2020 spring sports season, now wonder what, if any, and how much high school sports we’ll see in the fall.

“Right now, we’re really in a wait-and-see stage,” said Raymond athletic director Mike Tully. “There isn’t much we can do at this point. We’re preparing for a ‘normal’ season, knowing that we’ll need to adjust as we get more information.”

That information will likely come on July 22 when the WIAA is preparing to announce any further decisions made during a scheduled meeting a day prior.

The WIAA stated in Wednesday’s press release that the first day of fall sports contests can begin on Sept. 18, which effectively wipes out the first two weeks of the fall sports season, which included the 115th Myrtle Street Rivalry football game between Aberdeen and Hoquiam, which was set for Week 1 of the prep football season.

“With so many unknowns, this is very difficult to answer,” said Hoquiam AD Annette Duvall when asked how the Grizzlies teams are preparing for an uncertain fall sports season. “Plus, more than likely we are chasing a moving target, so what we say today may not be accurate tomorrow.”

Montesano AD Tim Trimble reiterated the sentiments of athletic directors from not just the Twin Harbors, but across the state as they await word from the WIAA on how to proceed.

“I have no idea how this will work. I am trying to stay patient,” he said. “We obviously won’t have (football) jamboree, but I’m not sure if they are changing the end date or not. I think they are buying time.”

Part of the problem both school officials and the WIAA face is that different counties are in different phases of the COVID recovery process, and the WIAA is taking into account areas dealing with differing impacts of the virus.

While Grays Harbor and Pacific counties have seen relatively low numbers of COVID-19 cases, their out-of-area competition has not been as fortunate.

The WIAA is also considering the different dynamics of each sport and its coronavirus risk factors. Golf and cross country are considered to be low risk while football is on the higher end of the risk spectrum. Essentially, the closer the contact that’s inherent with the sport, the higher the risk.

These varying factors make it difficult to gauge what the future might hold for the upcoming season, whether that be shortened schedules for some sports or flat-out cancellations similar to what we saw in the spring.

“I hate to speculate too much about what might happen, but I know that it is going to be very tough to play full schedules in most sports,” Tully said, adding many of Raymond’s teams are playing opponents out of the area in their non-league schedules. “We are scheduled to play teams from seven different counties in football and eight different counties for volleyball. The odds of all of those counties being in Phase 4 by September are looking pretty slim at this point. We don’t even know if we’ll be able to play football in Phase 4. In my opinion, it is going to be difficult to have the traditional fall state championships. For example, I can’t imagine sending 48 volleyball teams to Yakima for state in November.”

Tully offered some possible insight into the WIAA’s brainstorming by offering that one possible solution they may be considering is to switch seasons all-together.

“I think that the WIAA is going to take a long, hard look at switching fall and spring sports,” he said. “I don’t necessarily think it will happen, but it does make sense on a number of levels. Spring sports are all outdoors and generally easier to stay distanced. The one sticking point is that the spring sport kids have already lost a season and moving them to fall would put them at a greater risk of losing two consecutive seasons.”

Tully added that no matter what the WIAA’s decision, it will come with some serious consequences bound to upset more than its fair share of coaches, athletes and administrators.

“It is going to be a very difficult decision for the executive board,” he said.”No matter what they do, there are going to be unhappy people.”

Regardless of the outcome, the ADs and the teams they oversee will have to do their best to be flexible and institute any WIAA guidelines as quickly as possible, or lose out on another season of high school sports.

“(The Hoquiam School District) will follow all state safety guidelines and make appropriate adjustments with summer athletic sessions so we are in compliance,” Duvall said.

“I’ve talked to my coaches about needing to be very flexible as we move forward,” Tully said. “We are doing our best to follow all the guidelines that the WIAA has released. We are encouraging mask wearing and physical distancing as much as possible. Workouts are being done in “pods” of 8-10. The same kids are in the same pods every time. Balls and any other equipment is sanitized after every practice. Kids must bring their own water bottles. … It is definitely different from what we would normally be doing at this time of year.”