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Trico League sticks with plans to open fall sports practices Monday

League hopeful to start playing games in higher-risk sports the week of Feb. 15

By Tim Martinez, Columbian Assistant Sports Editor
Published: January 29, 2021, 2:40pm

The Trico League is sticking to its plan to open Season 1 of the 2020-21 high school sports season on Monday.

Thursday’s announcement that the Southwest Region will remain in Phase 1 of the Healthy Washington reopening plan until at least Feb. 15 did not alter those plans.

“We’re starting Feb. 1 with practices in all (fall) sports,” La Center athletic director Matt Cooke said. “Volleyball will be in pods until Phase 2, and so will football. But the other sports (girls soccer, cross country, boys golf) are a full go.”

The state loosened requirements Thursday for regions to reach Phase 2, requiring regions only meet three of four metrics. However, the Southwest Region, which includes Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, Klickitat and Wahkiakum counties, only met one metric and will remain in Phase 1. The state will reassess data again on Feb. 12.

The news came as a surprise to Cooke.

“I wasn’t paying attention to the news yesterday,” Cooke said. “I was busy doing other things. Then I get an email from one of my coaches ‘Is this true?’ And I was like ‘uh.’ I haven’t had time to let it sink in, but I think it will help us get to Phase 2 sooner.”

And when the region does reach Phase 2 – a requirement to start games in sports like football, volleyball and soccer – Cooke said his school’s teams are ready to pivot quickly.

“If it’s announced on a Friday that we are moving to Phase 2 the next Monday, (football coach John) Lambert said he would be ready to go that week,” Cooke said. “We’ve been practicing in pods since like November three days a week. So he said his team would be ready. He just needs a couple of days with the whole team together, which would be Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, to get them ready for competition.”

Lambert tweeted out La Center’s tentative football schedule on Wednesday, adding the note “Hoping and praying for this to happen.”

The first game on that schedule – Feb. 12 at Woodland – won’t happen. But the rest of the schedule is possible if the Southwest Region enters Phase 2 on Feb. 15 – Feb. 19 at Fort Vancouver, Feb. 26 vs. Goldendale, March 5 at Columbia-White Salmon, March 12 at Seton Catholic and March 19 vs. Castle Rock.

Cooke said he prefers not to release schedules until there is more certainty, but he understands the anticipation.

“We’re keeping our schedules under lock and key,” Cooke joked. “Our football schedule was made public. We let our families know and my football coach put it on (social media). Our football schedule was finalized yesterday after our AD meeting, and I’m working on our volleyball and soccer schedules now.”

Cooke added that if the region can’t get to Phase 2 by Feb. 15, then the league will have to come up with a new plan for season schedules.

Those schedules will include at least one new temporary member of the Trico League.

Goldendale asked to join the 1A Trico at least for the remainder of this school year. Goldendale was the lone Klickitat County school in the 2B Eastern Washington Athletic Conference. The other schools in the EWAC, except Warden, were in the South Central Region of the state’s reopening plan, complicating return-to-play plans.

“That was a little surprise about a week ago,” Cooke said. “Yes, they are joining because they are in Klickitat County, which is in (the Southwest) Region. Goldendale reached out to White Salmon a couple of weeks ago to get this process started.”

Like the EWAC, the Central 2B League has schools divided between multiple regions. Seven schools are in the West Region, which will move to Phase 2 on Monday. But four others (Kalama, Stevenson, Toutle Lake and Wahkiakum) are in the Southwest Region and will remain in Phase 1.

Cooke said there has been no discussions with Southwest 2B schools about joining forces with the Trico. Kalama and Stevenson are former Trico schools, and Stevenson just left the Trico last year as part of the WIAA’s most recent reclassification process.

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On Thursday night, the Stevenson-Carson School Board approved the hiring of John Hallead as Stevenson’s new athletic director, replacing Chuck Strom. Hallead, a former baseball and football coach at Columbia-White Salmon, will start his new position next week.

Athletic directors for the Class 2A Greater St. Helens League have scheduled a meeting on Monday to discuss changes to its Season 1 schedule in the wake of Thursday’s modifications to the state’s reopening plan, Washougal athletic director Gary McGarvie said. The 2A GSHL also will open Season 1 practices on Monday, with Phase 1 restrictions for football and volleyball.