Last month, on March 27, marked the 20th anniversary of my start date at The Columbian.
And not coincidentally, this school year marks the 20th that The Columbian will honor the best in high school sports in Southwest Washington with our All-Region series.
All-area teams preceded my time at The Columbian. But the way we’ve done it since the fall of 2001 is something I cultivated in my time at newspapers in Salem, Ore., and Olympia and brought to The Columbian in 2001.
The fact that this series has continued now almost 20 years is a source of pride for me. Over the past couple of years, we’ve been able to honor the athletes of the year and select All-Region teams for all 23 WIAA-sanctioned varsity sports.
But it also put me in a tight spot when one of our staffers last month asked the question: What are we going to do about All-Region THIS year?
My first reaction was to simply keep doing it the way we’ve always done it. Pandemic be damned.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that just wasn’t practical, or even possible.
So after some careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that we can’t do our All-Region teams the way we normally do them.
We’ll still do something to honor the best in prep sports this year. I feel it’s important that we give people something to celebrate in a year without a lot of celebration.
But it’s going to look different.
For starters, we will delay any end-of-year honors until the end of the athletic year in June. And this year’s All-Region honors will be far more condensed than in past years, likely focusing just on player of the year in each sport.
There are a bevy of reasons why we reached this conclusion.
TIME: In a normal school year, there is a winding down period from one sports season to the next — fall to winter, then winter to spring. This gives us time to wrap up one season before moving to the next.
But in this condensed pandemic schedule, the seasons are blurred with one overlapping into another. It feels like we just finished one season and another season is set to end. Our last football game in the region was on April 2. And now the 1A Trico League will play its final regular-season baseball game on April 20 — next Tuesday.
STAGGERED SEASONS: The 1A Trico is sticking with the WIAA calendar of seasons, while the 2A GSHL is operating about week behind that schedule. But the 4A/3A GSHL opted for a two-season format. So while the seasons for sports like football, volleyball and girls soccer are complete, every traditional winter and fall sport won’t completely wrap up until the middle of June. That would leave us doing 15 All-Region salutes during a time when athletes are either graduating from high school or heading out for summer vacations.
STAFFING: Because of needs elsewhere in the newsroom, our sports staff is operating at about two-thirds strength that it would normally be at. It also has, and will continue, to limit the number of events that we can see in person.
ALL-LEAGUE TEAMS: All-league teams have served as the foundation for our All-Region selections. And while the Trico and 2A GSHL opted to select all-league teams this school year, the 4A/3A GSHL has decided against them, opting to keep the focus on giving athletes the opportunity to play. And we salute that decision.
NO NON-LEAGUE GAMES: Non-league games can be helpful in selecting All-Region teams when you are picking players from different classifications. But with leagues sticking purely within their leagues, we didn’t get to see how a really good 2A team might fare against a 4A or 3A squad. We use coaches’ input for All-Region selections. But how can we get an opinion from a 4A coach who never saw a 2A athlete play in person?
LIMITED POSTSEASON EVENTS: The postseason — district, bi-district and state — also plays a big role in making All-Region selections. A team that makes a deep postseason run may garner more spots on an All-Region team. Without that, it becomes a bigger challenge.
One of these factors alone was not enough to derail our normal All-Region plans. But put them all together and the decision became pretty clear.
It’s been a weird year that has required a lot of weird changes, some not entirely desirable.
This is just another. We hope you understand.