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Nov. 28, 2020

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Tim Martinez: Word from WIAA could come today on what 2020-21 prep sports calendar will look like

High school sports

The Columbian
Published:

Tuesday appears to be decision day for high school sports in Washington.

Maybe.

On Tuesday, the Executive Board of the Washington Intescholastic Activities Association will meet to discuss options for athletics for the 2020-21 school year.

But on Monday, the California Interscholastic Federation announced the delay of all high school sports until December, with a football season that would run January to April and a basketball season that would run from March to June.

In doing so, California became the 14th state to delay the start of the high school football season in one way or another, and the third to push the season into 2021, joining New Mexico and Virginia.

Other states like Arkansas, Utah and Idaho have announced plans to push forward with the fall season as planned, at least for now.

It seems highly unlikely that Washington will follow that route.

The 2020-21 high school sports calendar will look significantly different from past years. The only quesion now is “how different?”

The idea of playing football from January to April, like the California plan, makes little sense in Washington. The winter climate here is much colder than in California, particularly on the east side of the state.

Factoring into the WIAA’s decision is the announcement last week by Gov. Jay Inslee to extend the moratorium on counties moving to the next phase of reopening until July 28.

Inslee also ratcheted back the guidelines on social gatherings for counties already in Phase 3 and indicated a possible return of tighter restrictions if the number of new cases of COVID-19 don’t start dropping.

College conferences in the Pacific Northwest have already put most fall sports on the shelf for 2020.

The Great Northern Athletic Conference, which includes schools like Western Washington and Central Washington, delayed all sports to Nov. 30.

The Cascade Collegiate Conference, made up of small colleges in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, delayed all sports until Nov. 1.

The Northwest Athletic Conference, which governs community college athletics in the Pacific Northwest, pushed fall sports like volleyball and soccer into 2021 while leaving the possibility that low-risk sports like cross country and golf could be contested in the fall.

While the plans of college conferences is a foreboding sign for high schools, it’s important to remember that prep sports are much different, particularly when it comes to required travel.

High school leagues can isolate competitions to regions of the state where the number of COVID cases are much lower. That fact gives the WIAA much more flexibility.

But it’s not even assured that we will get a definite plan for the fall season from the WIAA on Tuesday. Many schools in California open the school year in early August, so California was facing a tighter window for action than in Washington, which two weeks ago already pushed the start of fall practices to Sept. 5 and Sept. 7.

So there is time for further discussion if the WIAA’s Executive Board can’t reach a consensus on Tuesday.

This entire pandemic has presented a difficult challenge and a world of uncertainty for everyone — athletes, coaches, parents, fans, and the media.

No one wants to see the return of high school sports than me. The last time I went a fall without covering high school football, I was a sophomore in college.

Last month, I covered a golf tournament. It was the first live event I had attended in nearly four months. It was wonderful.

A week ago, I drove 40 minutes to cover a baseball game. It was glorious. Everyone there, from the players to the fans, were doing their part by masking up and keeping their distance. There was hope.

Then four days later, that league was shut down — albeit temporarily — after two players tested positive.

This is the world we live in. It feels as if we are faced with two choices: just delay all sports until a time when it is safer to play, or attempt to push ahead with whatever sports we can now, wherever we can, knowing full well that it could be shut down some time in the future.

Neither is appealing.

But it is what we have to accept. There are bigger things to be concerned with right now — the education of our children, jobs, lives.

It’s not the same, but the return of some national sports, even without fans, can help fill the void.

And as we wait for word from the WIAA, we’ll just keep our eye on the ball — mask up, keep our distance and let’s do our best to get through this together.

Tim Martinez is the assistant sports editor/prep coordinator for The Columbian. He can be reached at (360) 735-4538, tim.martinez@columbian.com or follow his Twitter handles @360TMart.

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