Circle Jan. 4., on the calendar. Prep sports will again be on the chopping block.
After kicking the can a week before Christmas, the WIAA Executive Board is meeting next Monday to determine the viability of a February start for winter sports.
There are currently five sports scheduled to begin on Feb. 1: gymnastics, bowling, boy’s swim and dive, basketball and wrestling — in what would be the first set of prep sports to resume since the pandemic hit in March.
The only snag is that under current WIAA guidelines, counties must be under 25 cases per 100,000 residents over a two week period AND report less than a 5% positivity rate. There isn’t a county in the state that currently meets the mark, with San Juan holding the lowest rate per 100,000 over the last two weeks (46.6) — Jefferson County (84.6) is the only other to have a rate under 100. Chelan County has a rate of 691.7. Douglas County is sitting at 541.1.
In an interview with Eli Sports Network two weeks ago, Executive Board president Tim Thomsen acknowledged the high rates, saying the state was in the middle of the biggest spike it had seen in regards to COVID-19.
“We thought the July spike was big, and this has just blown that out of the water,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen did say though that the rollout of the new Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which began a few weeks ago, has the potential to be the “beginning of the end” — in other words, a return to prep sports.
“We have that on the horizon and a huge spike on the other hand, but what that clearly tells us is there will be a lot of decisions and changes between now and when that vaccine drives the transmission rate hopefully down to a reasonable amount,” Thomsen said.
A lot of these decisions, though, will depend on Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Health (DOH). Inslee announced changes to his recommendations for grades K-5 to begin phased-in in-person learning for counties with fewer than 350 cases per 100,000, middle schools 50-350 and high schools less than 50. But there wasn’t any kind of revision to the recommendations regarding prep sports.
“What we hope, like everybody, is that all of the data and studies will be addressed by the Governor and DOH,” Thomsen said. “We know, through all of the studies and everything else, that one of the safest places for kids to be is in school. And even safer than that is in a sports program where it’s even more controlled and a smaller group. And the guidelines just haven’t caught up with all of those things. If they do, we’ll meet again and make adjustments.”
After pushing back the start of winter sports from late December to February, the executive board also condensed the seasons from eight to seven weeks — one week for practices, five for a regular season and one for a regional tournament.
Thomsen said the board could delay the start of the season one more time, but that’s about as short as they could make it to still have a viable season.
The WIAA could also look at swapping schedules to hold the lower risk sports first (or worst-case scenario) overlap the winter-fall-spring sports season.
“We’re not going to do that initially,” Thomsen said. “We’re going to try and get things done so that people can participate. We just hope the things we can’t control — the COVID rates, the guidelines, the vaccine, and the impact of the vaccine — take place in a way that allows us to get this done.”
Three weeks ago, a group of Eastern Washington administrators, including Miles Caples (Entiat), Dominique Coffin (Cascade), Elia Alailima-Daley (Cascade), Kevin Daling (Okanogan), Brett Fancher (Quincy), Bryan Johnson (Ephrata), Tim Payne (Ephrata) and Eric Sivertson (Manson) signed a letter asking for a return to sports and activities for all students.
Though there hasn’t been an official response out of the Governor’s office, Mike Faulk, spokesman for Inslee said the governor is currently reviewing recommendations that would allow for more prep sports activities to resume than what is currently allowed.
“We may have more to say about it later this week,” Faulk said in an email Monday.