The future of high school sports in the 2020-21 school is uncertain. So athletes, coaches and athletic directors are simply embracing the future.
And for most high school athletes in the area, that means limited workouts with some of their high school teammates.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) created a special open coaching period on Sept. 27 and extended it through Dec. 19 to give as many schools as possible the opportunity to provide out-of-season activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Evergreen Public Schools jumped at that opportunity in late September. Since then, more area school districts have joined in, with Battle Ground, La Center and Ridgefield schools starting workouts this week.
“It’s been awesome,” Prairie athletic director Jason Castro said. “It’s obviously difficult with all the attestation forms and the thermometers and all those things. But once they’re in and we can just do what we all love to be able to do, it’s been great for kids. I would argue it’s been better for coaches. And for me to sit back and watch the whole process, it puts a smile on my face, that’s for sure.”
Camas athletic director Rory Oster has seen similar experiences at his school.
“The kids are so appreciative to have the opportunity,” Oster said. “My favorite experience was the girls basketball program. We had our senior pod, our returning varsity pod with one junior in there. They came in for the first workout, walked into the gym and just lay down on the floor and did snow angels out there. It almost brought tears to their eyes.”
The Camas football team began workouts on Monday, which senior Jacques Badolato-Birdsell was looking forward to.
“It’s going to feel good to put some of our pads on, even just our helmets,” he said last week. “We have to be in a pod, like a little pod of players. But as long as we’re on the field, that’s all I care about. Just getting to bond with these guys is a great feeling.”
Union athletic director and football coach Rory Rosenbach asked his players for their opinions about how their limited workouts have been going.
“They all said the same thing: ‘I’m in such a better mood. I’m more inclined to have that level of interest in school,’ ” Rosenbach said. “All of those things of getting outside, being able to work outside a bit and having a little social interaction has been really good for them. I know it’s been really good for us as coaches to see that. It’s a little bit of normalcy that we haven’t had for a long, long time.”
Rosenbach added he’s been impressed with how students at Union are complying with the health protocols.
“The kids have been great because they know they wanted this,” he said. “They pushed for it. They got it. So now they’ve got to a good job of adhering to the guidelines we’ve put out. And they’ve been awesome so far about it.”
Added Castro: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen high school kids this compliant. They’ll do whatever you tell them to do to get back and work with coaches.”
It’s also been a boost for athletic directors, most of whom have been repurposed to other duties.
“It’s kind of given me a little jolt of energy to get kids back on campus,” Oster said. “It gives me something else to do instead of figuring out how to put together SAT tests or whatever. I’m an athletics guy. I like dealing with the athletics piece.”
The athletic directors hope to be able provide more for their athletes and coaches than just limited workouts. When they’ll get that chance remains to be seen.
This week, the WIAA released further guidelines on what needs to happen to get teams playing games again, including a plan that would eliminate state championships in 2020-21 and replace them with regional events.
“I’m trying to remain optimistic. I’m trying to find hope, like everybody else,” Castro said. “I just hope in the spring or sometime in the second semester, even if kids have to choose (between playing one of two sports), just to get them back, put on the uniform, getting them on the field doing something is the ultimate goal. Whether you’re playing for a state title or a regional title or not, in my mind, who cares? Just get the kids out there and get them some sort of high school athletic experience.”