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With Orcas Island stepping away from spring sports, Daniel Olson’s senior season dips from 10 games to nine. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

And then there were six.

Things change at a moment’s notice in the Age of Coronavirus, and Wednesday brought a new wrinkle.

Orcas Island informed Northwest 2B/1B League officials it will not begin athletics until students return to in-person education.

Currently, the expectation is for that to happen in late March, though nothing is guaranteed.

With a condensed spring sports season running from February 22 to April 3, Orcas is out, with the hope it will be back in when traditional fall sports run March 29 to May 8.

The Vikings are the second group of NWL athletes to bow out due to COVID-19 concerns, as Chimacum already opted to delay joining what is intended to be an eight-team league.

Chimacum combined with next-door neighbor Port Townsend for the 2020-2021 school year, and the schools are playing in the 1A/2A Olympic League as East Jefferson.

With Orcas stepping away from spring sports, two Coupeville teams lose a total of four games from already pared-down schedules.

The Wolf softball squad was set to host the Vikings March 13, then join the CHS baseball team in traveling to Orcas March 23.

That road trip was to feature a softball doubleheader and a lone hardball contest.

With the changes, Coupeville softball sees its schedule shrink from 12 to nine games, while Wolf baseball goes from 10 to nine.

CHS track and girls tennis are unaffected, as Orcas doesn’t field teams in those sports.

 

UPDATE: A trip to Friday Harbor has been added to the schedule on March 19, bringing both Coupeville diamond schedules up to 10 games.

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Coupeville High School athletes such as Logan Martin (right) can return to action February 22 — a year-plus after COVID-19 shut down prep sports. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

Sports are returning to Coupeville High School.

Thursday afternoon, on the one-year anniversary of the last time a CHS team played a game, Washington state Governor Jay Inslee announced five regions will move to Phase 2 next week in his reopening plan.

That includes the North region, which mashes Island County together with Whatcom, Skagit, and San Juan.

With that move, which goes into effect Monday, Feb. 15, all seven schools in the Northwest 2B/1B League will be eligible to play athletic contests.

The NWL plans to start with spring sports — track and field, baseball, softball, and girls tennis — Feb. 22.

A six-week season will run through April 3, with fall (March 29 to May 8) and winter (May 3 to June 12) sports scheduled to follow.

Fall sports for CHS are football, volleyball, girls and boys soccer, cross country, and boys tennis, while basketball traditionally plays in the winter.

NWL Athletic Directors are working on scheduling and transportation, and expect to release schedules for spring sports next week.

At the same time, they will also address whether fans will be allowed at games.

Under current State Department of Health guidelines, athletes in all four spring sports will be required to wear masks while playing.

Cross country and gymnastics are the only sports where athletes are currently allowed to go mask-less while competing, with harriers allowed to drop masks after leaving the starting line.

Inslee’s decision to advance five regions forward means seven of the state’s eight regions will be in Phase 2 as of Feb. 15.

The only region which will remain in Phase 1 is the South Central one, which encompasses Yakima, Kittitas, Benton, Franklin, Walla Walla, and Columbia counties.

To advance, a region needed to meet metrics showing a decreasing trend in COVID-19 case rates, coronavirus hospital admission rates, ICU occupancy, and positive tests for the virus.

As a state, Washington averaged 2,894 new cases per day as of Jan. 8.

That dropped to 1,327 new cases per day as of Jan. 30, according to figures from the State Department of Health.

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If games are played this school year, Coupeville and Chimacum will not meet on the gridiron as originally planned. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

One less rival.

If games are played this school year, Chimacum will not join Coupeville in the Northwest 2B/1B League.

Instead, the Cowboys plan to unite with next-door neighbor Port Townsend, and the two schools will remain in the 1A/2A Olympic League, perhaps playing as “East Jefferson County.”

That’s according to a report Friday by The Peninsula Daily News.

When the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association conducted reclassification counts, Chimacum, like Coupeville, dropped from 1A to 2B.

The two schools were approved to join fellow 2B schools La Conner and Friday Harbor in the NWL, a league which also includes 1B schools Orcas Island, Mount Vernon Christian, Darrington, and Concrete.

Port Townsend was to join the 1A Nisqually League

But then COVID-19 threw everything all higgedly-piggedly.

Washington state schools haven’t competed in nearly a year thanks to the pandemic, and both the Chimacum and Port Townsend school districts have seen reduced enrollments.

The WIAA is currently proposing a plan in which fall sports would be played first, followed by spring sports, before winter sports cap the 2020-2021 school year.

The athletic governing body is allowing leagues to break free of that plan, however, and the NWL has applied to play spring-fall-winter.

Port Townsend and Chimacum, which already unite to field cooperative teams for cross country, girls swim, tennis, and wrestling, will add football and volleyball to that list.

They had already planned to also unite for girls soccer, and have been trying to resurrect a combined softball program.

Even with two schools, “East Jefferson County” sits at just 437 students, according to Port Townsend Athletic Director Patrick Gaffney.

That number keeps the combined program under the 1A cutoff, and it would actually have less students than Klahowya, the only other 1A school left in the Olympic League.

That conference, where Coupeville played from 2014-2018, includes seven 2A schools, headlined by North Kitsap and Sequim.

Post-pandemic, there are many options available.

Port Townsend and Chimacum could further unite, combining programs for all sports.

They could stay as is, with both schools having their own programs for sports such as basketball, boys soccer, golf, and track.

Or they could totally split apart, likely bringing Chimacum back to the NWL.

Like everything else in the Age of Coronavirus, nobody knows nothing for sure right now.

“If the two schools want to provide a broad range of sports, this might be the direction we have to look at,” Gaffney was quoted in the Daily News.

“If we don’t go that direction and Chimacum is a 2B and PT is 1A, you may have to cut sports offerings, and I think both communities don’t want to see that.

“To be able to offer swimming and tennis and other sports that some small schools don’t provide is good for our athletes.”

Like all AD’s in a frustrating time, Gaffney and Chimacum’s Carrie Beebe will try to balance what’s best for all involved.

“At some point this year, we will have an idea of how it is going, any issues that arise or don’t arise, and I think those will be minimal,” Gaffney said in the Daily News article.

“We are all trying to do what’s best for kids, PT and Chimacum, and when you frame it that way, it’s hard to come up with an argument against doing this.”

 

For the complete Daily News article, pop over to:

PREP SPORTS: Jefferson County high school rivals set for merger | Peninsula Daily News

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Coupeville’s Willie Smith and fellow Northwest League Athletic Directors have a plan to return their athletes to play. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

This is the way.

It’s not everyone’s way, but it will be our way.

Coupeville High School, and its rivals in the Northwest 2B/1B League are breaking free from Washington Interscholastic Activities Association guidelines, and have set their own path for returning to playing sports contests.

As everyone deals with the fallout of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the WIAA is allowing individual leagues far-greater flexibility to make their own schedules.

With that in mind, NWL Athletic Directors approved a plan in which their athletes will play traditional spring sports first, followed by fall sports, before closing the 2020-2021 school year with winter sports.

The plan has been submitted to the WIAA for approval.

Actually playing games will depend on whether counties reach new metrics set by Governor Jay Inslee and the state health department, however.

Their plan — Healthy Washington – Roadmap to Recovery — divides the state into eight regions.

The North region includes Island, Whatcom, Skagit, and San Juan Counties.

NWL mates Coupeville, La Conner, Concrete, Mount Vernon Christian, Orcas Island, and Friday Harbor sit in that region.

Chimacum (Jefferson County) and Darrington (Snohomish County) are in the Northwest and Puget Sound regions, respectively.

All regions started in Phase 1 of the plan this week. Once a region moves to Phase 2, schools can begin playing games.

To reach Phase 2, a region must meet four metrics:

**10-percent decline in COVID-19 case rates over the past two weeks.
**10-percent decrease in COVID-19 hospital admission over the past two weeks.
**ICU occupancy under 90 percent.
**Test positivity less than 10 percent.

The NWL return to play plan calls for three six-week seasons, with some overlap.

Athletes will begin practice for the next season during the last week of the prior season.

“Think of it as if all of our teams that are playing would be in a state tournament and the next sport is getting ready for their season,” said Coupeville Athletic Director Willie Smith. “That is the goal, isn’t it?

“So our coaches will be working together to formulate a practice plan/requirements for those student-athletes that are playing multiple sports.”

 

Spring sports:

Baseball, softball, girls tennis, and track and field, running from February 22 to April 3.

“This fits better in current phases of all counties/regions, and is only one week earlier than normal spring sports start dates,” Smith said.

Starting with spring sports has multiple benefits.

All sports are played outside, which lowers risk of transmission, and spring athletes would be rewarded, as they were the ones who lost an entire season when state schools were initially closed in March, 2020.

 

Fall sports:

Volleyball, football, cross country, boys tennis, and girls and boys soccer run from March 29 to May 8.

Previously, when Coupeville was in the 1A division, soccer was played in separate seasons, but that changes with the Wolves now in 2B.

Pushing fall sports into the middle allows for a greater chance schools will be eligible to play football (a “high-risk” sport) and volleyball (an indoor one).

 

Winter sports:

While most of the NWL schools wrestle, Coupeville does not, opting for girls and boys basketball.

Hoops, being played indoors, currently sits at the very top of the “high-risk” chart for prep athletics in Washington state.

Having extra time for case numbers to recede as flu season fades and vaccinations rise is highly-important.

“(The wait) will give us an actual opportunity to play,” Smith said.

 

No decisions have been made public on whether athletes will be required to wear masks while playing, or if fans will be allowed at games.

While no one knows anything for sure during the Age of Coronavirus, the NWL plan offers hope for coaches and athletes.

“It just makes more sense to me,” Smith said. “With the current conditions of each county and region (as we are now lumped into), that this would give us the best chance of getting all three seasons in.”

Going forward, NWL AD’s plan to meet two weeks prior to the Feb. 22 start date to review where league schools stand in relation to being eligible to play.

While the league could start play without all eight schools being eligible, if the AD’s decide they don’t have enough schools ready, it’s possible the start date could be bumped a week at a time.

There are also two back-up plans being worked on in case things get really dire.

In one, the league would use a two-season (spring and fall sports) calendar, while in the other, a one-season calendar dedicated to just spring sports could be employed.

While seasons will be shortened, the games should be as competitive as normal.

“League championships are still on the line this year, so we are playing for something and games are meaningful,” Smith said.

He added that All-League teams will also be voted on for each sport.

Schools plan to release info on fees, paperwork turn-in, and requirements for physicals in the next week.

They ask parents and students to NOT flood their schools with questions, as the plan is being worked on and will be sent to the public as soon as it is completed.

While the primary focus has been on high school sports, middle school athletics have not been forgotten.

“Middle school sports are still a work in progress,” Smith said. “Though I do have some alternate plans I’m working on should our middle school league not offer athletics for middle school this year.”

While things are still topsy-turvy, having a solid plan to aim at gives the AD’s hope.

“As with all things COVID, this plan is a living, breathing, ever-changing document, though it does give us a date and plan that is actually tangible,” Smith said.

“As I’ve told our coaches and administration, I am cautiously optimistic and excited about this plan and feel it gives our kids the best chance of playing this year.”

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Coupeville HS/MS Athletic Director Willie Smith uses his powers judiciously. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

With great power comes great responsibility.

As Coupeville High School transitions from 1A down to 2B, Athletic Director Willie Smith has new options at his fingertips, but will be careful in how he deploys these.

One rule which has caught the eyes of a lot of parents and athletes is the one which allows 2B schools to use 8th graders on high school teams.

It’s allowed in two situations.

In the first, if Coupeville Middle School doesn’t offer a specific sports program which the high school does, such as tennis, softball, or baseball, 8th graders can be allowed to play up.

In the second, if a high school program has a significantly low turnout, 8th graders may be used to “save” a varsity team or allow a school to field both full varsity and JV squads.

But…

While it’s possible we may see 8th graders participate on a Coupeville High School sports team, it will only happen under the second set of circumstances.

This is largely because Smith is doing his due diligence, seeking to work hand-in-hand with his fellow AD’s in the Northwest 2B/1B League, while creating an equal playing field for all eight schools in that revamped league.

Even though there are some talented CMS athletes who will be 8th graders next school year, the Wolves will resist the temptation to supplement their high school rosters just because they can.

If there is not a genuine need to keep a high school program afloat, middle school remains middle school, and high school remains high school.

“The intent of the rule is to help 1B/2B schools who may have low turnout numbers be able to field a varsity or junior varsity team,” Smith said. “If the numbers of participants are above those set numbers we will not even consider moving an 8th grade student up to the high school level.

“If a program is close in numbers to be able to field a sub-varsity (JV) program then we would consider moving up an 8th grade athlete or athletes IF they were willing to do so and IF it allowed us to participate with two full varsity and sub-varsity programs.”

The WIAA has set guidelines for roster size in five sports, and allows 2B schools to use 8th graders if turnout is below these numbers.

They are:

Baseball (25)
Basketball (16)
Soccer (25)
Softball (25)
Volleyball (17)

During the 2019-2020 school year, when Coupeville was still a 1A school and could not have taken advantage of the rule, its baseball program was well under the set number.

In those other four sports, CHS was at, or well above, the cutoffs.

Tennis, cross country, and track are not included on the list, though a similar philosophy of “saving” programs would likely be in effect.

While the latter two of those sports continue to have strong turnouts, tennis has taken a hit in recent seasons, with longtime coach Ken Stange working with some of his thinnest rosters in years.

Football is not included, as it can NOT use 8th graders.

As Coupeville adjusts to a new classification and opportunities, a key will be working smoothly with its new league mates.

“In discussing this with our 2B/1B League schools, who have had this rule at their disposal for many years now, they were clear that the intent of the rule, as well as the implementation of the rule by our league members has always been based on numbers and the salvaging of a program,” Smith said.

“Philosophically, this makes full sense to both myself and our administration and follows the same philosophy as outlined by league members.”

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