By Jim Waller / Whidbey News-Times
All three Whidbey Island high schools are scheduled to compete in a new athletic conference this coming school year. Those debuts, however, are put on hold.
The Northwest 2B/1B League, the Northwest Conference and the Emerald Sound Conference, the new athletic homes for Coupeville, Oak Harbor and South Whidbey respectively, announced recently that the approaching fall sports season will be postponed because of concerns with COVID-19.
Cross country and boys tennis, originally set to compete in Season 1 of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s new four-season format, are now postponed until Season 3.
The other traditional fall sports — football, volleyball, girls soccer, 1B/2B boys soccer and girls swim — which require more human contact, were previously moved to Season 3 by the WIAA.
Season 3 begins March 1 and ends May 1. Football, however, will be allowed to begin practice Feb. 17.
Coupeville, Oak Harbor and South Whidbey high school athletes will now have to wait until the beginning of Season 2, Dec. 28, to start athletic action for the 2020-2021 school year.
Season 2 runs through Feb. 27 and includes the traditional winter sports — basketball, wrestling and boys swimming and diving.
Season 4, which includes the traditional spring sports — track and field, girls tennis, baseball, softball and boys soccer — will run April 26 through June 26.
Schools will need to be in counties which are in Phase 3 or 4 to compete in most sports.
Coupeville Athletic Director Willie Smith said the Northwest 2B/1B League decided Aug. 5 to push the fall sports to Season 3.
The league’s athletic directors felt it was “not safe or condusive” to begin athletics this fall, according to Smith.
Since the WIAA gave schools the option to move the sports to Season 3, the Northwest 2B/1B League took advantage of the opportunity.
Coupeville, Oak Harbor and South Whidbey are the only schools in their respective conferences that are in a county in Phase 3; the others are in Phase 2.
South Whidbey Athletic Director Paul Lagerstedt said the Emerald Sound Conference athletic directors “talked it over and thought, ‘If we can move to Season 3, let’s do it.’”
Some sports could have been moved to Season 4, but that would form conflicts with facilities and coaching, he added.
“We just thought moving to Season 3 would work better on all fronts,” Lagerstedt said.
“It seemed like the natural thing to do.”
Oak Harbor Athletic Director Jerrod Fleury said, “For us, we would obviously like to play.” He noted, however, that the other area schools are in counties in Phase 2 and Oak Harbor would not have anyone to play against, so jumping to Season 3 along with the rest of the Northwest Conference was the proper choice.
In addition, “There is still a little bit of uncertainty about the guidelines Gov. (Jay) Insley set for extracurricular activities” in his latest update. “Even if we had a team (and are in Phase 3), would we be able to compete?”
“There are still a lot of questions (about the coronavirus) out there.”
Fleury stressed that the fall sports were moved to Season 3 and not canceled, like last spring’s athletic season.
“The kids still have an opportunity to compete,” he said.
Whidbey Island coaches agree with the decision to move fall sports to Season 3.
“I am glad they made the move,” Coupeville tennis coach Ken Stange said. “I appreciate that we want to resume our normal activities, but public health is paramount.
“Kudos to WIAA for coming up with a plan that is flexible enough to let us go for a spring start.”
South Whidbey tennis coach Karyle Kramer said, “Postponing tennis until Season 3 seems like the safest, smartest route.
“While, of course, I love the thought of the guys getting to play their season in just a few weeks, the reality is that the majority of the league teams are not ready for organized practices and match play.
“I know some of the guys will continue to get out and play on their own — there have already been quite a few players out practicing this summer. It’s easy to stay distanced on the courts, it’s good exercise and it’s social — all important factors for people right now.”
South Whidbey cross country coach Doug Fulton said, “Unless counties achieve Phase 4, cross country meets really are not possible. So it is a good decision for us.
“We will continue to train over the fall and winter and hope by March the virus situation will be under control. With senior-laden boys and girls teams we are excited about our prospects in the spring.”
Eric Peterson, Oak Harbor’s cross country coach, said, “I’m disappointed for the kids that have been preparing for a fall season, but know moving to Season 3 is a better option and will hopefully provide them a safer environment.
“Also, a later season should provide them a better experience because schools will have established guidelines for sports and we’ll know what we can and cannot do for our kids.”
This story originally appeared in the Whidbey News-Times, a sister publication to The Herald.