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Posts Tagged ‘return to play’

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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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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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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Washington Interscholastic Activities Association Director Mick Hoffman is calling for a safe return to play for state prep athletes. (Photo courtesy WIAA)

School sports and activities are needed now more than ever.

That’s the message the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association wants to send to Governor Jay Inslee as we hit nine months with no high school or middle school games.

Thursday, WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman issued an opinion piece, which we’re sharing in its entirety.

 

Ever since I was lucky enough to become the Executive Director at the WIAA, I’ve told our staff and membership that we are in the memory-making business.

Those memories can be made in any town, large or small, in any sport or activity, at a mid-week practice, a senior night, or a State Championship final. 

As a former coach and teacher, I had the opportunity to be a part of those memories and I’ve seen firsthand that high school is defined as much by what you learn outside of the classroom as what you learn in it.

Coaches and athletic directors, along with those of us at the WIAA, have long championed the value of education-based athletics and activities.

Everyone has heard how competition can build character, teach discipline and life lessons, and connect students with peers and their communities.

These are more than just talking points or “coach-speak” because now, in the absence of these extracurricular activities, it has never been more clear how much they are needed.

Parents can see the outsized toll this sudden change in life has taken on our kids.

It has diminished our sense of joy, created anxiety over our safety and wellbeing, and stolen what will soon be a full year of our lives.

While there is conclusive evidence about the physical dangers of this virus among certain age groups and demographics, the Governor’s Office and Department of Health must factor in the impact restrictions have on our students’ mental and emotional health.

A University of Wisconsin study found in July that approximately 68% of 3,243 student-athletes surveyed, which included Washington students, reported feelings of anxiety and depression at levels that would typically require medical intervention.

That was a 37% increase from pre-pandemic levels.

We are fighting a disease we have never seen before and one we know little about.

This fall, schools in Washington chose not to offer sports and activities in accordance with the Governor’s recommendation.

At the time, we had little information on the risk of extracurricular activities in relation to COVID. Now, research from around the country allows us to make decisions on real data.

The University of Wisconsin found that, in a sample of 30,000 high school athletes, only 271 COVID-19 cases were reported, with 0.5% of those cases traced back to sports contact.

In New Jersey, EDP Soccer managed 10 youth soccer tournaments in the state as well as multiple soccer leagues along the East Coast.

In approximately 318,500 games, no COVID-19 cases were attributed to participation.

Right here in Washington, Seattle United Soccer Club had 1,930 boys and girls participate in its programs this summer for two months of training.

In total, two of those players contracted the virus and both of those came from community transmission, outside of sport.

These examples of students returning to sports are not meant to diminish the havoc and loss that this virus has caused.

They are meant to show that if we work together and take the proper precautions, we can return to offering these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

We know this because it has already been done.

These are challenging times, absolutely, but there is no hiding from this pandemic.

We’ve heard the hesitancy among superintendents: “How can we offer athletics when we haven’t returned to in-person learning?”

This is not a logistical question. It is a question regarding optics and politics.

I understand the hesitancy based on the stance of their communities. However, we must focus on the values and interconnectivity of extracurricular activities.

Education-based sports and activities have always been a key component of our school system.

We cannot eliminate one portion of a student’s education because we had to modify another.

Aside from the inherent values that come with athletic and activity participation, students who compete in high school have shown to achieve higher grades, increase motivation and engagement, and improve the overall high school experience.

I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from our schools as well.

Administrators in large school districts are reporting three times the number of students earning failing grades this year with all the challenges we face.

Students are not attending on a regular basis or, in some cases, at all.

This has been a difficult time for students, teachers and everyone working to educate our children.

Returning to competition will not be a cure-all, but, in a time where students have become disconnected from their education, we know athletics and activities can help them re-engage.

This call to action is not coming from a place of self-preservation or self-interest.

While the WIAA itself has taken a financial hit during the pandemic, I am confident the organization is positioned to survive these hard times and thrive when we return to normality.

A return to play this year without fans in attendance likely makes for a more difficult financial situation.

But that is not what this is about.

We have seen education-based athletics and activities take place successfully throughout the country.

The state of Washington has demonstrated we can develop and execute safety measures during the pandemic.

Our athletic directors and coaches have proven they are committed to ensuring the safety of student-participants and complying with state-mandated regulations. 

We must allow students to participate under the supervision of their school leaders and coaches and the WIAA is prepared to assist in navigating that process.

There is no safer place for a student than our schools, before and during this pandemic. 

Not to mention schools offer the most equitable opportunities for students of all skill levels and financial means.

Restricting the ability of schools forces students and families to pursue avenues that are cost prohibitive and have fewer safety measures.

I understand that as I write this, we are seeing another surge in COVID cases around the country as well as in Washington, and that we may need to wait before we begin competition again.

But we cannot wait until COVID goes away because students don’t have that luxury.

They’re running out of time to make memories.

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