With the start of Washington’s high school winter postseason just weeks away and all events to be held as scheduled, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has strong words for folks planning to attend winter state tournaments: Wear a mask or risk the state event you’re attending be canceled on the spot.
“And no, we’re not bluffing,” said Mick Hoffman, the WIAA’s Executive Director.
Right now, it’s business as usual as the state’s governing body for high school sports prepares to host winter postseason events starting with bowling Feb. 3-5 in University Place and cheerleading Feb. 4-5 at Battle Ground High School. It’s followed by wrestling and boys swimming (Feb. 18-19), gymnastics (Feb. 24-26), basketball (March 2-5) and concludes with dance and drill (March 25-26).
In his standing weekly meeting with representatives from the state Department of Health and Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, Hoffman was told don’t anticipate any changes to the current state guidance that would impact the WIAA’s winter state tournaments.
The caveat, however, lies in local jurisdictions, as the state deals with surging numbers of COVID-19 cases statewide involving the omicron variant.
“Local departments of health can be more restrictive,” Hoffman said.
That’s why the WIAA is creating contingency plans, in addition to on-site mitigation strategies, at all its venues should stricter enforcement — such as capacity limits, or at worst, banning all spectators — be put in place in counties where state events are being held.
Whether or not spectators are allowed could hinge on their compliance with indoor masking at high school events now. Hoffman continues to hear from school leaders statewide about unruly fans.
“The biggest factor that’s going to determine whether fans get to attend (state events) and if they get to attend as usual is if the state Department of Health trusts people will follow the guidance,” Hoffman said. “We’re forced into those conversations because of the actions happening out in the field.”
So far, it’s been a mixed bag on cooperation. Hoffman pointed to the fall’s state volleyball tournaments at the Yakima Valley SunDome, where he said spectators’ mask compliance ranged from 80 percent to “we were lucky to get 50 percent” over two November weekends. Then in December, outbreaks of COVID-19 were linked to a handful of wrestling tournaments, leading multiple local health jurisdictions — including Clark County — to recommend pausing wrestling activities. Clark County’s two-week pause expired Jan. 3.
Hoffman said the reason for the wrestling pauses wasn’t solely because of the high outbreak numbers, which reached 350 statewide by Dec. 21. Photos from the venues showed many in the stands and around the mats without masks, he said.
That’s why the WIAA isn’t taking any chances. Hoffman wants all events to happen without a hitch, but knows it will take a complete effort.
“It’s going to be up to them (spectators) on whether or not we can trust them,” Hoffman said. “I’d rather have mad parents than heartbroken students.”