Despite COVID-19 restrictions, coaches and high school athletes are anxious to play again
After patiently waiting on the sidelines for almost a year, Washington high school athletes may finally get the chance to play again.
Governor Inslee announced a return to athletic competition on Tuesday, Jan. 5, as part of his Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery plan. Under the governor’s Phase 2 plan, low, moderate and high-risk sports competitions are allowed — but restricted to — a 200-person maximum, including spectators.
Tournaments are not allowed during this phase. High schools are optimistically planning to resume sports activities as early as Feb. 1.
The Western Interscholastic Activities Association has been working closely with schools to ensure that returning sports are safe and follow state medical guidelines.
“Basketball and wrestling are high-risk and indoors,” said Robert Polk, Northwest Interscholastic Athletic Association District 1 representative. “These sports are going to be tough to get played this year.”
Although sports returning will involve a moderate amount of contact, COVID-19 transmission risk is reduced with use of protective equipment such as masks, according to the National Federation of State High School Association guidelines.
The WIAA has given schools flexibility regarding which sports to resume. However, most local high schools are planning to start traditional winter sports such as basketball, wrestling, gymnastics, bowling and boy’s swimming and diving beginning Feb. 1.
Fall sports such as football, volleyball, soccer, cross country, slow-pitch softball and girl’s swimming and diving are scheduled to begin March 15 per WIAA guidelines.
“We’re hoping to follow the state guidelines with a return to play starting next week for football, cross country and girl’s swim, then volleyball and soccer,” said Colin Cushman, athletics and activities coordinator at Sehome High School. “Because of the tight protocols, seasons will be shortened to six weeks.”
Since March 2020, coaches and athletes have been cautiously optimistic that sports would return this school year. Most schools delayed reopening for the 2020-2021 academic year, choosing to stay in remote learning due to increased COVID-19 cases statewide.
Concerns about students’ mental health have also been an important discussion for school administrators. The National Education Association reported in an Aug. 2020 issue of NEA Today that the loss of peer contact through participation in school activities has affected many students.
“The social-emotional well-being of our students is important,” Polk said. “I personally want to do what I can to make it happen, provided we follow all protocols. It’s going to be a challenge since students have not returned to the buildings yet.”
Boy’s swimming is one of the sports that will need to make several changes to its practices and competitions.
“Normally, kids would be standing next to each other in the lanes, but we had to come up with a protocol to keep them six feet apart,” said Don Helling, Sehome High School’s boy’s swim coach. “Students can’t use shared equipment like kickboards for drills, carpooling is discouraged and the kids must enter and exit the facility at the same time.”
High school athletes are excited about practicing and competing again, but some parents have mixed emotions about returning to sports.
“Obviously, parents who have concerns are encouraged to do what’s right for their family,” Helling said. “However, the swim team has been doing dry land practices since summer so they’ve adapted well to the changes. I initially had some concerns about restarting, but I am convinced that with the protocols we have in place, we’ll be okay.”