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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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Martinez: Playing prep sports this fall, if possible, would be a huge boost to high school students

High school sports

By , Columbian Assistant Sports Editor

This fall – I hope – will mark the start of my 22nd year of covering high school sports in the state of the Washington – the 20th here in Clark County.

This came after nine years of covering high school sports in Oregon and growing up in California before that.

When I arrived in Washington in the summer of 1999, I quickly found there were several things about prep sports in this state I found odd – from split-classification leagues to Tuesday football playoff games (thankfully now largely extinct, although not completely) to the fact that it could sometimes take up to six postseason losses to end a team’s season.

But right up there with those other “oddities” was the idea of alternate seasons.

In Washington, the high school sports of golf and tennis are classified as spring sports, for both boys and girls. But the WIAA allows districts the option of holding alternate seasons for these sports in the fall.

Here in Southwest Washington, the regular season for boys golf and boys tennis is held in the fall, including district, and sometimes even bi-district, tournaments.

Athletes in boys golf and tennis play their regular season and even clinch state berths by the end of October, then wait seven months to compete at state, which is held in late May.

When I first heard of this practice, I thought it was completely bonkers.

But the more I learned about it, the more it made sense.

By splitting the seasons, it relieved the demand on an already limited amount of time open on golf courses and tennis courts in the region.

Even with the split seasons, for many years, boys golf teams in Clark County had to go to Portland hold matches.

And girls tennis has seen a explosion of popularity in recent years with some programs boasting 60 to 80 players. It’s already a challenge for coaches to find court time for all those players, so imagine what it would look like if the boys also played in the spring.

Also, when you consider that the elite golfers and tennis players – the ones who would be competing for state titles – are year-round players, that seven-month layoff isn’t much of a factor for them.

Put that all together, and the alternate seasons make a lot of sense.

So last month, when the WIAA Executive Board announced it would be meeting to create benchmarks that would need to be met in order for sports like cross country and slowpitch softball to still be competed in the fall, my first thought went to the idea of alternate seasons.

Instead of trying to determine if enough of the state could get to the point where the entire state could compete in cross country or slowpitch softball in the fall, simply move the state championships for those sports to the end of Season 3 of the 2020-21 sports calendar, and leave it up to individual districts to decide if competing in the fall makes sense to them.

Last week, that’s exactly what the WIAA Executive Board decided. Actually, the WIAA said that the “culminating events” for cross country and slowpitch softball would be held at the end of Season 3. A culminating event does not necessarily mean a state championship.

There is no guarantee that a state meet or tournament, in any sport, will be possible in 2020-21. The culminating event could be regionalized competitions.

But alternate seasons for cross country and slowpitch softball create some issues.

Softball is a team sport. An alternate season means bringing 12 to 15 kids together to play a season in the fall to vie for a state berth, disband that team for six months, then bring them back together to play in a state tournament. That’s a challenge.

Cross country is a sport in which athletes build up endurance to be at their peak level by the end of the season. In an alternate season, those athletes would build toward the end of October, then go through several months of a lull in training before trying to rebuild to compete in state in April. And then after that, they jump right into track and field in Season 4. That’s a challenge.

But as we’ve said before, this isn’t the time for perfect solutions, but choosing the best of some less-than-desirable options.

School districts across the state have already announced that the school year will begin with distance learning. For how long, we don’t know.

Kids are going to be feeling a lot of anxiety this fall, a lot of frustration. They will need some sort of release from that. And if they can do that as part of a group, even if that group is small, the rewards will be enormous.

It’s my hope is that conditions will improve enough for kids to play some kind of high school sports this fall, and that school district officials will be flexible enough to allow that to happen safely.

Because without sports this fall, it will be a long, long, hard winter.