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Martinez: WIAA announces plans which likely scrub state tournaments for regional events

High school sports

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: November 3, 2020, 4:45pm

The Camas High School football team hit the field Monday to begin limited workouts in what the Papermakers hope was the first step toward repeating as 4A state champions.

On Tuesday, they learned that while their hopes remain technically alive, the pursuit will look a whole lot different in 2021.

The Executive Board of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced revised guidelines Tuesday for return to play, and in doing so, forecasted that the likelihood for a statewide tournament or championship in any sport appears very low for the 2020-21 school year.

Instead, the state will be divided into a three regions – Region A consisting of Western Washington from Seattle north to the Canadian border (WIAA Districts 1-2), Region B consisting of Western Washington south of Seattle to the Columbia River (WIAA Districts 3-4) and Region C consisting of the entire state east of the Cascades (Districts 5-9).

In order for any sport to be played, at least 50 percent of the schools in a region must meet the metrics to allow teams to play in their counties and make the decision to play in that season.

And if the 50 percent threshold can’t be reached, the WIAA is giving the regions of the option of moving that sport to a season later in the school calendar, WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman told the Eli Sports Network.

“Different classifications have different needs,” Hoffman said. “It’s hard to offer at the 1B level two major sports (at the same time) because they’re so reliant on (their numbers). … So we leave that up to a local decision to cancel the season, switch the season or play (multiple) sports at the same time. A larger school like Garfield (of Seattle) can do that. We’re going to give a lot of local control because there is no way at the state office we can possibly be aware of and best address local needs.”

Hoffman also added that even if a region reaches the 50-percent participation threshold, it can decide to move a sport to a later season if it will allow a greater number of schools to participate.

While dividing the state into regions provides for more local flexibility in dealing with the pandemic, it also basically takes a statewide competition for championships largely out of play.

Instead, the plan is to have teams play for a regional title, with four teams from the leagues in a region playing a “culminating event,” Hoffman said.

“The reality is … superintendents and school districts are only going to allow teams to do what their risk management team says,” Hoffman said. “And the risk management groups have said they’re going to recommend what the governor and the department of health says. So when it gets to (the WIAA) being able to plan our events, we need to work within those guidelines.

“And we believe we have a better opportunity doing it geographically because we can do the final-four concept in one day, which could potentially mean two basketball games or two volleyball games in a day for a school. They can drive in, drive out in the same day. We don’t have worry about overnight stays.”

Hoffman said each of the regional champion would be considered a state champion, meaning that there could be three state champions in each classification in each sport.

So for Camas football, for example, defending its state championship won’t mean playing a KingCo Conference opponent like Bothell or Woodinville, or even an eastside team like Chiawana or Gonzaga Prep.

It will mean first beating out 4A Greater St. Helens League rivals Union, Skyview and Battle Ground for the right to play for a regional title against the likes of Kennedy Catholic, Puyallup or Graham-Kapowsin.

So, officially, state tournaments haven’t been scrubbed from the WIAA’s calendar in 2020-21.

If by some miracle, a vaccine is quickly developed and the pandemic is eradicated in the next few months, a state tournament could be held later in 2021.

“It would involve a lot of planning,” Hoffman said. “We’d have to find venues because we’ve had to release our venues for the year. But if could we find a high school or something like that to host a state tournament, would we? Absolutely. We would make something happen.”

But with cases of COVID-19 rising in different areas of the state, including Clark County, that doesn’t look likely.

“Realistically, we don’t know if we’re ever going to get there, at least in this school year,” Hoffman said.

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Instead the focus for the WIAA is to offer anything it can offer. And the most pressing issue now is determining of higher risk sports like basketball and wrestling can open their seasons on Dec. 28, when practices are slated to start in Season 2 of the WIAA’s revised calendar.

“The board is going to take a look at the plan and make some decisions on Nov. 17, as far as what’s the plan for (Season 2),” Hoffman said. “And then we’re hoping that on Dec. 4, we’ll be able to finalize officially, like this is the plan for Dec. 28, with the understanding that we can pivot relatively quickly.”