The blueprint for conducting high school sports in the fall amidst the coronavirus pandemic has arrived.
The WIAA, the state’s governing body for high school sports, released its guidelines for conducting fall athletics Monday afternoon. High school sports have been suspended since March because of the coronavirus outbreak, and the document released Monday outlines the requirements for returning to practices and competitions, with the requirements varying by sport.
That means a lower-risk sport such as cross country will be able to return to competition sooner than a higher-risk sport such as football.
“It is not likely that ALL students will be able to return to — and sustain — athletic activity at the same time in all schools and regions in Washington,” the document stated. “There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held. While we would typically have reservations regarding such inequities, the (National Federation of State High School Associations’ Sports Medicine Advisory Committee) endorses the idea of returning students to school-based athletics and activities in any and all situations where it can be done safely and in alignment with reopening policies set forth by the local school district and (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) framework.”
The document ties the return of high school sports to Washington State’s four-phase reopening plan. Each sport is broken down individually, stating what level of practice or competition is allowed during each phase. Snohomish County is currently in Phase 2, during which all sports are allowed to hold workouts in pods of five, with the same five individuals always working out together, as well as no sharing of a ball.
In Phase 3, sports designated as lower risk (cross country) are allowed to begin competition, while sports designated as moderate risk (volleyball, girls soccer) are allowed to begin competition in Phase 4.
For football and girls swimming, it is not clear exactly when competition can begin.
Football is designated a higher-risk sport, and the football-specific plan implies that games can begin in Phase 4, but it does not state that explicitly. In the general guidelines for Phase 4 that aren’t sport specific, moderate-risk sports are allowed to begin competition, but there’s no mention of higher-risk sports being allowed to resume games. In addition, in the football-specific Phase 3 guidance, players still aren’t allowed to use the same ball.
Meanwhile, girls swimming is labeled a low-risk sport, which in the general guidelines means meets should be allowed to begin in Phase 3. However, the swimming-specific plan states that in Phase 3 gatherings at indoor pools cannot exceed 10 individuals.
No sport-specific guidelines were released regarding boys tennis, though in the general guidelines it was listed as a moderate-risk sport.
A call was placed to the WIAA office late Monday afternoon in an attempt to get clarifications. It was met with a voicemail message saying the offices closed at 4 p.m.
Tying the return of high school sports to the state’s phases means that different counties will be able to resume at different times — there are currently 15 counties that have advanced to Phase 3, while three counties remain in Phase 1 — and that makes competitions between schools from different counties challenging. Wesco, which contains most of the schools in Snohomish County, also includes schools from King County.
Snohomish County is eligible to apply to move into Phase 3 on Friday, provided the county meets criteria regarding coronavirus infection rate, hospital capacity, etc. The county has not yet indicated whether it intends to apply for Phase 3 on Friday.
In a video accompanying the document, incoming WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman emphasized the need for schools to follow the guidelines.
“It is absolutely critical that people do not get out in front of this, that we continue to be cautious as we move forward,” Hoffman said. “The key to us having the opportunity for students to compete and participate in the fall is going to depend on how healthy we come into that situation. As we fine tune and perfect these guidelines, we’re hoping we’ll be able to play throughout the fall.
“If we have people who get out there too quickly — and several people have challenged the state and myself as well as our team on, ‘Why aren’t we doing it more like other states?’ — what we are now seeing is those other states that went too fast are having to go really slow to catch back up,” Hoffman continued. “We want to make sure to make consistent progress to give every child in our state that wants to participate in our education-based activities the opportunity to do that this fall.”