I want to preface by stating that there probably aren’t many in the community who want prep sports to return more than World sports editor Ian Dunn and myself.
It sort of goes without saying when the majority of your time on the clock is typically spent at the ballpark — or shuttling between it and The World's Mission Street newsroom.
Sports, in large part, dictate our everyday lives. We eat, breathe, debate and crave competition. And at this point, we would give anything to get back out on the sidelines to cover the area's best athletes. We’re so sports-deprived, we’d cover pingpong if it could be organized. (If anyone fancies a challenge, I was my high school’s two-time champion and possess a nasty backhand.)
But even we can see the writing on the wall. So, let’s call it what it is; we’ll be lucky to get out on a soccer pitch to cover girls’ soccer in the fall — classified as a moderate-risk sport. Consider it a victory if we are. But (high-risk) football? No chance. Everyone needs to get that pie-in-the-sky notion out of their head.
And believe me, it hurts to admit it.
As much as we all want to get back to our Friday Night Lights routine come September, unless the pandemic magically goes away over the next month, which the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) seems to be holding onto, it’s not coming to fruition.
First, the obvious: positive cases are still soaring around the state, including in both Chelan and Douglas counties. The Chelan-Douglas Health District reported 425 in both counties over the past two weeks (July 1-14); we’re essentially in a worse spot now than we were in April when all of the spring sports were canceled.
Even by the WIAA’s guidelines (put out June 22), football isn’t feasible until the counties advance into Phase 4 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start guidelines. Does anyone honestly believe that’s going to happen within the next two months, especially considering we’re still paused in Phase 1.5 until at least the end of July? Doubtful.
Players can’t even touch the same football or make contact with one another until Phase 3, provided they wash their hands before and after practice and maintain 6 feet of social distancing. But football isn’t a sport that necessarily allows for a ton of open space; it’s close-quartered, face-to-face combat. And no matter what kind of safeguards are implemented, nothing can eliminate that.
Those who know football, know the game is won in the trenches, with guys grinding, sweating, breathing on and moving one another. Masks aren’t likely to be mandated while on the field (nor should they be), so it’s a petri dish- type environment. Plus, teams in the Big 9 are in four different counties — Chelan, Douglas, Grant and Yakima. Even if Chelan and Douglas counties advance into Phase 4, it’s hard to imagine Davis, Sunnyside, West Valley or Eisenhower (all in Yakima County, which has been severely impacted by the pandemic) getting there also. So, what would the schedule look like when long-distance travel is not advised?
But let’s say football miraculously starts back up on Sept. 18. What happens when a player inevitably tests positive? Do you contact trace through game film and then quarantine every player he came in contact with? Or the whole team?
What about the refs — many of them in the “vulnerable” age group — who were working that game? If they have to quarantine, or don’t feel safe and decide not to work, are there enough refs to fill in?
There are just too many unknowns. This is why the WIAA needs to stop tiptoeing around the obvious and be straightforward with every football player in the state: unless they decide to move the season to spring, something I wholeheartedly endorse, there won’t be any football this school year.