WIAA updates guidelines for return to play

By: 
Taylor Newquist
Sports Editor

High School sports in Washington have been suspended for over seven months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, many schools across the country and as close as 70 miles across the Idaho border are back in school and on the field. Though that hasn’t come without expected road bumps. Last week several East Idaho teams went into isolation after coming into contact, or contracting the virus.

Soda Springs High School football and Volleyball, Marsh Valley High School volleyball and American Falls High School boys soccer were self-isolating according to the Idaho State Journal. A Grangeville High School football game against Weiser High School was canceled earlier this month because a player contracted COVID, a Genesee coach also tested positive canceling its game last Friday.

The Washington Interscholastic Athletics Association has been adamant about its goal to get players back on the field as soon as possible. At the same time, the association does not want to suffer any virus related setbacks and is reliant on the Governor’s Office and Washington Department of Health to do so.

Over the weekend, the WIAA released a ‘Process for returning to sports and activities’ list, which was its first update since early July, “In an attempt to help answer questions and to clarify the steps needed for returning to sports and activities.”

The list was outlined in partnership with the Governor’s Office and DOH, which included five steps needed to return to play and six key considerations.
The five steps are:
1. Governor to recommend return to play.
2. DOH to provide guidance on required steps to return to play.
3. Risk management to review any new recommendation in response to Governor and DOH.
4. School leadership to commit to play.
a. Most would consider return to play once students are able to return to school even in a hybrid model.
b. Coaches under collective bargaining agreements would need to support return to play.
5. WIAA Executive Board to review current schedule with new recommendations.

“It is important that everyone from government officials, to local school leadership work together to create an environment for education-based athletics to return,” the release said. “Not only will that provide the safest path to competition, it is the only way to allow equitable opportunities for students in all sports around the state.”

The six considerations listed by the WIAA are:
1. Do schools have the resources and ability to meet any new recommendations that may come from Governor’s Office and DOH?
2. Would a limited fall season provide more, or less, opportunity for a majority of WIAA participants?
a. Currently, the WIAA schedule provides for seven regular-season contests in the spring plus one additional contest for schools that do not qualify to postseason.
3. What would students gain by playing in the fall rather than the revised schedule seasons?
4. What is a realistic start date for a fall season if recommendations and guidelines change? How much time is needed for students to return safely?
5. Would a late fall start disproportionately impact fall sports such as golf, tennis and cross country due to weather issues?
6. Allow competition between schools that desire to play contests during the open period currently scheduled Sept. 28 to Nov. 30.

It is reported that 95% of Washington students started school in primarily remote learning. Currently, the WIAA seasons are scheduled to begin in late december with traditional winter sports, leading into fall sports in March and spring sports in May.

The key considerations listed in the outline indicate the WIAA is considering starting fall sports before winter sports. The next step listed by the association is for the Governor’s Office and DOH to periodically review guidelines as more information became available. The timetable for this process has not been determined.

Many players remain anxious to return to play. In late August a group of football players from the west side of the state organized a group called the “Student Athletes of Washington”, which started an online petition that garnered over 34,000 signatures. The group then went on to hold a protest with a couple hundred student athletes marching outside of the Governor’s Office.

Others who believe returning to in-person learning and sports is still too dangerous point to the cases spread in Idaho and other states across the country.
Washington had 5,339 new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, with 292 hospitalizations and 58 deaths. The daily statewide averages are 381 cases, 21 hospitalizations and four deaths.

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