It’s finally official.
Nearly a full calendar year since the last prep sports competitions occurred in Snohomish County, student-athletes in the area’s largest high school athletics conference have been given the green light to return to play.
Wesco athletic directors announced the approval of their three-season plan in a press release Wednesday.
“I think it would be an understatement to tell you that we’re beyond excited to provide an opportunity for our student-athletes,” Wesco president Don Dalziel told The Daily Herald. “That’s all any of us want, to give some of these kids a chance to go out and play. … For the student-athletes to have to deal with this (pandemic) in the middle of their high school seasons, I just can’t imagine how challenging it’s been.”
Practices for traditional falls sports — football, cross country, girls swim and dive, volleyball, boys tennis and girls soccer — begin Feb. 22 and competitions as early as March 1.
Dalziel said the league also approved team schedules at its meeting. Those can be expected to be made public in the coming weeks. Athletic directors still need to work out logistics, such as officiating and travel.
“We definitely have work in front of us,” Dalziel said, “but it’s the good kind of work that a lot of us athletic directors were hoping we were doing a long time ago.”
For now, fans will not be allowed to attend games when competition begins. Cheerleaders will be allowed at home events. School-based performance groups like band will be allowed at home events based on Washington State Department of Health recommendations. Home athletic directors will determine which performance groups can attend games based on capacity limitations. Credentialed media will also be allowed with prior approval.
Current guidelines in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Healthy Washington” recovery plan allow up to 200 people at outdoor sporting events and up to 200 people or 25% capacity, which ever is less, at indoor events. Those numbers include athletes, coaches, referees, other staff and fans.
“Our focus is clearly around providing an opportunity for student-athletes to compete,” Dalziel said. “If we look at football for example, if two teams show up with 70 kids each and its 140 total,” adding referees, coaches, cheerleaders and other event staffing brings that near 200 pretty quickly.
“If we can’t do it for football, it’s really difficult to tell the other sports you can,” he said.
Dalziel noted additional risk management and the potential for additional contact tracing as complications that could occur from allowing fans to attend games. He added that many event workers are in a high-risk age group, which could complicate event staffing as well.
“Management related to COVID is challenging enough just to do it with our student-athletes and coaches,” Dalziel said. “When we bring in a fan group… it creates additional challenges.”
Schools will attempt to live stream games to give parents and other fans the chance to watch online.
“That’s not a guarantee,” Dalziel said, “but everybody is going to be putting in the effort to try and make that work.”
Wesco will reevaluate the opportunity to allow fans in after officials, transportation, event staffing and other event planning is completed.
The league’s plan to returning to play calls for three, six-week seasons. Traditional spring sports — baseball, softball, girls tennis, golf, boys soccer and track and field — start practices March 30 and traditional winter sports — basketball, wrestling, girls bowling and boys swim and dive — begin practices May 3.
Basketball and wrestling, designated as high-risk indoor sports by the Washington State Department of Health, still aren’t eligible to begin competition after the Puget Sound Region — Snohomish, King and Pierce counties — moved to Phase 2 of the governor’s recovery plan.
The hope is that starting winter sports last will give the area time hit metrics that would allow those sports to begin. Those key benchmarks have yet to be released by the governor’s office.
“There’s a possibility that we won’t hit those metrics and then we’re going to have to make an adjustment,” Dalziel said, “whether that means we can’t offer those sports, basketball and wrestling, because they’re high-risk and indoor or we have to try and delay their season shortly. So what we have decided throughout this whole process is this situation is fluid and we have to be able to make adjustments as new information is given to us.”