The Executive Board of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association is set to make a decision on the start of high school sports in the state next week.
But a decision made last week by the Wesco Conference in the Northwest part of the state may offer a clue as to what the WIAA may decide.
Athletic directors from the Wesco, which is comprised of schools in Snohomish County north of Seattle, announced plans last week to adopt its own plan to return to play for the 2020-21 school year, the Everett Herald reported.
The Wesco’s plan would resume practices on Feb. 22, three weeks later than the WIAA’s current start date of Feb. 1.
“When we look at the current metrics for COVID, also the phased-in approach we are using to open schools and conversations with superintendents, Feb. 1 was just not a realistic date to start,” Everett School District athletics director Robert Polk told the Herald.
It’s worth noting the Snohomish and Clark counties were reporting similar numbers of new COVID-19 cases.
Last week, Snohomish County reported 417 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents. Clark County reported 434 cases per 100,000.
Both counties’ numbers peaked two weeks ago and have declined since. Snohomish’s most recent numbers put them at 330. Clark’s numbers, released Tuesday, dropped to 386.
Those numbers are encouraging, but they still might not be enough to get sports back by Feb. 1. Experts warn of a possible rebound spike in cases coming as result of holiday gatherings, and those numbers won’t be known potentially until mid-January.
So another three-week window may give officials a better idea of where this pandemic is headed and when it is prudent to bring prep sports back.
The Wesco also has decided on reshuffling the order of sports season, much like a plan Oregon adopted earlier this month.
The Wesco plans on starting with traditional fall sports beginning practices Feb. 22 with league-only competition running from March 1 to April 3.
The Wesco would then move to traditional spring sports from April 5 to May 8, and conclude with traditional winter sports from May 10 to June 13.
The Wesco made the change of season because athletic directors believe outdoor sports stand a better chance at beginning competitions by March 1 than indoor sports. Traditional winter sports like basketball and wrestling are held exclusively indoors.
The current WIAA plan is to resume sports with traditional winter sports (competition from Feb. 8 to March 20), followed by fall sports (March 22 to May 1) then spring sports (May 3 to June 12).
However, even with the governor loosening guidelines for schools to return to in-person learning last week, it still remains unclear if enough school districts in the state will be ready to start sports by Feb. 1, particularly indoor sports like basketball and wrestling.
When the WIAA delayed making a decision regarding a return-to-play plan from Dec. 15 to Jan. 4, WIAA Executive Board president Tim Thomsen said one potential option would be to push the return-to-play plan back to Feb. 22 and further condense each of the remaining three seasons.
This option would closely shadow the Wesco’s plan. But the Wesco’s plan adds the twist of launching first with fall sports to give it a better shot of being implemented.
Earlier this month, the Oregon Schools Activities Association announced a revised schedule that was very similar to the Wesco’s plan, but extended the sports calendar a little deeper into June to provide longer seasons.
Oregon’s plan starts with fall sports competition from March 1 to April 10, spring sports from April 12 to May 22 and winter sports from May 17 to June 26.
The Wesco’s plan still needs to be approved by the WIAA at its Jan. 4 meeting.
“All communications that we have heard is that nearly every recommendation or proposal from a league will be accepted as long as safety is being kept in mind,” Polk told the Herald.
So the question doesn’t seem to be if the WIAA will OK the Wesco’s plan, but if it will adopt a similar plan for the rest of the state on Jan. 4.
Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4538, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow his Twitter handle @360TMart.