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When high school sports contests return Thursday, athletes like Coupeville’s Ryanne Knoblich will be wearing masks, along with coaches, fans, and refs. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

It’s up to you.

And me.

And all of us.

In less than 24 hours, the grand experiment starts up in Coupeville, just as it has started in other cities across Washington state.

High school athletic contests, pitting the Wolves against other schools, return for the first time in a year-plus, even as we continue to wade through an active pandemic.

For a lot of people, it is the light at the end of the tunnel — something to inspire and invigorate students, something to give them hope again.

For others, it is a foolhardy decision.

I’m not here to debate politics with you, to argue over charts and “experts,” and which “experts” you each personally choose to believe or discount.

That’s between you and your family, but mainly you and yourself.

What I am here to do is to try and amplify a point raised Wednesday by Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Executive Director Mick Hoffman.

And that point, that plea is this — if you want high school sports to remain active, and expand further, there is no debate for athletes, coaches, refs, or fans.

WEAR YOUR MASK!!

You can like it, you can hate it, you can agree with it, you can scorn those in Governor Jay Inslee’s office who have mandated masks for everyone involved in prep sports.

Cause your personal beliefs don’t matter at this moment.

Wear your mask, or this will all go away as quickly as it returns.

That is a stone cold fact.

This is not me saying so.

This is not Hoffman saying so.

This is the people who actually decide the fate of athletics in our state saying so, in very precise words.

“If people don’t wear masks, there will be consequences, trust me,” is what Hoffman reported state officials saying.

It’s simple.

Inslee’s people, the State Department of Health, and news outlets have been bombarded in the last few days with photos of athletes, coaches, and fans not wearing masks, or trying to pull a fast one by having their mask out of place.

There are those who do not want high school athletics to be played right now, and they are out there, ready to capture photographic proof to back their belief that people won’t act responsibly.

They are coming hard, and Hoffman is pleading with everyone who wants prep sports to remain active, from athletic directors down to parents, to come equally as hard.

“(If it continues), they’re gonna shut us down, and it’s not just the schools that are being reported. It’s all of us,” he said during Wednesday’s WIAA broadcast.

Coupeville track and field returns to action Thursday at home, hosting a five-team meet which will be restricted to athletes, timers, and officials.

Wolf baseball and softball play at home Saturday, with girls tennis hitting the CHS courts Monday.

All three of those latter events are open to fans who adhere to two requests — wear masks and socially distance.

The same goes for athletes, coaches, umps, and refs.

After a year of bitching and complaining, of justifiably being sad and scared, of not knowing if, or when, any semblance of normalcy would return, we are being handed a chance.

And all we have to do is follow one simple request.

The choice is yours, it is mine, it is all of ours.

We can rise above our differences, and work together, or we can splinter off into a million different directions, and kill something good before it gets a chance to thrive.

I’m not asking you to change your mind, to believe in something if you don’t want to, or to accept one person as the final and total authority on infectious diseases and how they’re spread.

You are an independent person in a country where you’re born with the right to hold your own beliefs. So be it.

But frankly, wearing a mask for two hours at a game so your kid, who is also wearing a mask, gets to play softball again, and not be stuck in their bedroom 24/7, doesn’t seem like much to ask.

We’re all going to make our own decision, in the end.

As someone who makes 37 cents an hour (if I’m lucky) writing about sports, I hope that our town embraces what we’re being offered, and makes a small sacrifice.

Coupeville can be part of the argument in favor of sports returning, or it can be part of the argument against.

If you choose the former, thank you.

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Under new guidelines, Coupeville cross country runners like Cristina McGrath may be allowed to compete this season without masks. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

At least one Coupeville High School sports program could go largely mask-less when it returns to play.

After a new ruling Tuesday by the Washington State Department of Health and Governor Jay Inslee’s office, cross country has been given leeway not afforded most other sports.

Under the change, harriers will be allowed to drop their masks once a race begins.

Runners will still have to wear masks prior to the beginning of each race, and once they finish their running.

Instead of having runners bunched up at the beginning, as in pre-COVID times, cross country races will feature staggered starts.

Cross country and gymnastics, which Coupeville doesn’t compete in, are the only sports currently allowed to compete without masks.

Under current Northwest 2B/1B League plans, cross country and other traditional fall sports will run from March 29 to May 8.

Spring sports (baseball, track, softball, girls tennis) are supposed to signal a return to play, running Feb. 22 to April 3, with winter sports going May 3 to June 12.

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Heidi Meyers sports a mask while working on her softball skills. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

It’s mandatory.

The Washington State Department of Health currently plans to require prep athletes wear masks in both practices and competitions through the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.

The only sport that will be allowed to go mask-less is swimming.

There are ongoing discussions, however, concerning whether “low-risk” sports such as cross country and tennis might be freed from the mandate.

“We are continuing to share information on whether that (wearing masks) is appropriate in all venues,” said Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Executive Director Mick Hoffman.

“Right now we are being told we have to wear masks or we can’t do the activity,” he added. “That decision is made by the Department of Health, at the state level, and the Governor’s office.

“We (the WIAA) can not change that.”

Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have required masks for some prep sports, with Michigan the only one to have a face-covering mandate for high school football.

That mandate was issued by Governor Gretchen Witmer in September, and Michigan was able to play a complete season, with state championships set for this coming weekend.

In Washington state, athletes in all sports other than swimming will be “required to wear a cloth mask over mouth and nose at all times.”

Gaiters are “allowed, but not preferred.”

The DOH recommends masks made from cotton, fleece or linen, with a fastening mechanism, preferably ties or an elastic strap which goes around an athlete’s head or behind their ears.

Along with solitary “low-risk” sports perhaps being exempted, there is also the question on how football players will wear both a mask and the still-required mouth guard, since most mouth guards are directly attached to the player’s helmet.

Like everything in the Age of Coronavirus, things can, and likely will, change from day to day as discussions between the WIAA and the DOH continue.

For now, the WIAA understands “there are conflicting medical reports out there,” Hoffman said.

But the athletic governing body can’t go counter to the mandates of state officials.

“For those that take the stance that this is a health concern for students doing it (wearing masks), and it can cause issues, all I can tell you, is if you feel that way, you can’t let the student participate,” Hoffman said.

“If it’s a bona fide health concern for that student, you shouldn’t put that student out there.

“No different from a head injury, or any cardiac issue; no different if they have serious asthma or smoke.

“Because, at this time, we can’t give you a waiver.”

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Will Coupeville High School football players return to Mickey Clark Field this spring? (David Stern photo)

High school football coaches from three states are pushing hard for government and health department officials to allow athletes to play this spring.

The West Coast Coaching Alliance organized in November, and represents California, Oregon, and Washington.

The group has been using social media to push its fight, with many football players posting videos to sites such as Instagram and Twitter this week.

Players were instructed to “thoughtfully consider the positive benefits of permitting students to participate in educationally based athletics activities,” use a positive tone, and avoid political messaging.

Unlike other protestors, the Alliance is not calling for education-based sports to immediately begin.

But the coaches want to see each state hold to its schedule for bringing back competition.

In Washington state, the current plan calls for traditional winter sports such as basketball to run from February 1 to March 20.

After that, fall sports would go March 15-May 1, with football beginning practices March 8.

Spring sports would cap a reduced 2020-2021 school athletic year, running from April 26 to June 12.

Each season would be seven weeks in length, with regional championship events likely replacing state tournaments.

However, with COVID cases and deaths spiking throughout the state, one of two things would have to happen for high school sports to start-up Feb. 1 in Washington.

Either case rates will have to rapidly fall over the next month-plus, or state officials will have to re-do (and loosen) current guidelines.

Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Executive Director Mick Hoffman pushed for the latter in an op-ed piece — “They’re running out of time to make memories” | Coupeville Sports.

That’s a position favored by the Coaching Alliance, as well.

While acknowledging the reality of the pandemic, it points to other states which have played high school sports — some more successfully than others — as offering a road map the Western states could follow.

Their statement:

West Coast Coaching Alliance Statement (calcoachesassociation.net)

In the meantime, the social media campaign will continue, with coaches and advisors posting videos this Saturday, Dec. 12, followed by family, friends, and neighbors of high school athletes Dec. 19.

 

An example of the athlete videos:

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NAS Whidbey is laying down the law.

With COVID-19 infections having spiked in Island County the past two weeks, bigwigs at the Island’s largest employer are firmly reminding their subordinates to mask up, maintain social distancing, and wash your grubby lil’ fingers.

Earlier this week, the Island County Health Department released a statement which said:

“There have been 44 new cases of COVID-19 between Sept. 9 and Sept. 25, 2020.

This is a significant increase from case rates in late August and early September.”

Friday afternoon, CDR Tim “Oz” Oswalt, Executive Officer at NAS Whidbey, issued his own follow-up statement:

In the last two weeks, COVID-19 infections across Island County and on NAS Whidbey Island have increased at a greater rate than at any time during the summer.

It is absolutely imperative that everyone follow the proper hygiene protocols on and off base to curtail this spread.

If the trajectory of this spread continues the base will be forced to impose restrictions and close services.

Please help us avoid taking those actions!

Contact tracing has indicated that congregations of people are a major causal factor in the local spread of the coronavirus, especially those activities where people remove their masks, such as at restaurants and in smoke pits.

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