For the first time in 10 months, there’s a reason to get excited about high school athletics.
League athletic directors around Southwest Washington announced plans to return to play on Thursday. It is the first time since March that a firm date is in place for sports to return.
High school sports will start Feb. 1 for athletes in cross country, boys tennis and boys golf in the 4A, 3A and the 1A Trico League. The status of other traditional fall sports will have to wait for improving COVID-19 metrics. The plans closely align with the guidelines the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced last week.
The 2A Greater St. Helens League is announcing its plans to return Friday. They are expected to be similar to other local leagues.
“It’s huge for the morale of these kids; it’s huge for the morale of our staff,” Union athletic director Rory Rosenbach said. “It’s fun for them to feel like there’s finally a light at the end. You wake up and feel different when there’s something to look forward to.”
Cross country, boys tennis and boys golf may start practices Feb. 1 with competition beginning the following week, even if the Southwest Region remains in Phase 1 of the state’s “Healthy Washington” reopening plan.
After modifications were made to the guidelines by the state earlier this week, low-risk outdoor sports – like cross country, tennis and golf – could begin practices and competitions while a region remains in Phase 1. The Southwest Region, which includes the counties of Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, Klickitat and Wahkiakum, was placed in Phase 1 of the new reopening plan on Monday, after hitting on only two of four required COVID-19 metrics.
“High school is just so special because it really is one of the only times golf is a team sport,” Camas senior golfer Owen Huntington said. “We’re excited. It means a lot to have one more half of a season, at least, as a team.”
The 3A and 4A GSHL mapped out a more comprehensive plan for the return of moderate- and higher-risk sports of football, volleyball, girls soccer and Slowpitch softball, which require a region to be in Phase 2 to begin competitions. Those sports will return under the following guidelines:
- If the Southwest Region is in Phase 2 by Jan. 25, those sports may begin practices on Feb. 1.
- If Phase 2 is not reached until Feb. 1, practices may begin on Feb. 8. The process repeats itself – if Phase 2 is reached on Feb. 8, practices start Feb. 15; if Phase 2 is reached on Feb. 15, then practices start on Feb. 22.
- Any delays in a start from the Feb. 1 start date would lead to an overlap with subsequent seasons.
- If the moderate- and high-risk sports cannot begin practices by Feb. 22, the leagues will adopt a two-season format that will be combined the seasons of some fall sports with that of spring sports and other fall sports with that of winter sports.
Because indoor pools, both public and private, currently have limited capacity under COVID-19 restrictions and cannot accommodate high school swim teams, the season for girls swimming will be delayed to a subsequent season.
“It’s mixture of hope and wariness,” Camas girls soccer coach Keri Tomasetti said of the feeling for moderate- and high-risk sports teams about the news Thursday. “It still feels potentially up in the air. There’s a frustration in that piece, but it’s completely understandable.”
The athletic directors said a decision on dates regarding other sports seasons will be made after the WIAA makes its recommendations at a meeting of its executive board on Tuesday.
Masks will be required for all competitions, per the Department of Health’s guidelines. The leagues will follow the ever-evolving DOH restrictions.
“I just believe in doing positive things for the kids,” Mountain View athletic director Adam Mathieson said. “If that means wearing masks and socially distancing, we’ll do it. If that means, getting a hair dryer and an extension cord and getting on my hand and knees to dry off a tennis court, I’ll do that too.”
The new alignment for the 4A GSHL for the 2020-21 schools consists of Battle Ground, Camas, Skyview and Union high schools. The 3A GSHL is made up of Evergreen, Heritage, Kelso, Mountain View and Prairie.
Schedules are expected to be finalized and released next week, Heritage athletic director Erik Gonzalez said. While still in the drafting process, athletic directors hope to crown both 4A and 3A GSHL champions in all sports, Mathieson said.
“When you pause for a minute, it’s kind of surreal,” Mathieson said. “We’re actually going to play sports. We get to hand out jerseys and take a team picture. It’s been a long time and we all need it. … It’s going to be emotional to see kids practicing again.”
The Trico League’s plan was similar but less formal than the GSHL. Cross country and boys golf can start practices on Feb. 1. While every Trico school offers cross country, only La Center, King’s Way Christian and Seton Catholic field boys golf teams. Castle Rock and Columbia of White Salmon are the other two Trico members in 2020-21.
“We need to provide our students with an outlet and some sense of normalcy,” Cooke said.
Cooke said football and girls soccer will start limited practices on Feb. 1 if the region is still in Phase 1. Full practices and competition in those sports, plus volleyball, will begin whenever Phase 2 is reached.
Cooke said to limit any possible outbreak, the league will schedule events between the same schools in the same week.
“We plan to schedule the same school for all sports in a given week,” Cooke said. “For example, if our football team plays Castle Rock, then our volleyball and girls soccer teams will also play two games that week against Castle Rock — one home, one away at alternating sites on a given night.”
The league also hopes to hold some kind of district championship event with schools from the 1A Evergreen Conference, although Cooke said it had not been determined what that might look like.