Opinion: Difficult Situation calls for Drastic Action; How we should Re-Open High School Sports

paulb

7/10/2020

It was just a few weeks ago that everything seemed to be coming together. In several counties they had reached phase 3 of the Governor’s plan and looked like most of the state would be in phase 4 by August and schools would re-open and sports would be back with some guidelines still in place but it just felt like we were on the downward slope.

Then in a blink of an eye the surge began all across the country including here. The optimism turned to pessimism when the hot spot in the U-S was in Yakima and was the 2nd story on the National News on a Saturday. Ever since then the virus numbers have not been a friend to the hope of students in classrooms and players on the field.

The WIAA has done a tremendous job in planning and informing. This is important to understand, the WIAA and the schools heck even the State Schools Suprintendent himself have no say or very little in what we ultimately will be able to do. All they can do is react to the conditions and guidelines handed down by the Governor’s office and State Health Department.

This is not a political statement or anyway trying to get anyone to change their opinion or beliefs but at some point reality needs to be taken seriously. Understand this, Governor Inslee is not suddenly going to say ok let’s go ahead and open the doors to the schools and gates to the stadiums. The Governor has been exceptionally conservative and careful in his handling of the virus and whether or not you agree it doesn’t matter. The belief somehow your constitutional rights are being taken away or being called a sheep or whatever your objection is, it will not change how the Governor will continue to handle the virus. That’s NOT political, it is REALITY.

That being said it is now time for the WIAA to start pushing things off the table. Executive Director Mick Hoffman has stated several times that no idea is off the table and they will keep all options open as long as they possibly can. This is admirable but we believe the time is now for decisive and drastic action regarding sports.

We do not know if any sports will be allowed if students are not allowed back in classrooms at least part time. The one thing for sure right now is the WIAA has already pushed the start of Fall sports to the first week of September. Is this simply the first step in the inevitable? We think it is.

Let’s start with football. How is this sport got a chance to be played in the Fall? Not only are they already trimming games off their schedules but many teams had games scheduled with teams in Oregon, Idaho and other states. Trying to play within our own state’s guidelines will be difficult enough but to try and follow another state as well which can be different makes this difficult task that much harder.

To play football, which by the way, hasn’t even been included in any of the phases to play a game at this point including phase 4. That’s right if you are just seeing this for the first time under phase 4 of the Governor’s plan football has not yet been included as State Health officials continue to review guidelines that would allow the sport to be played.

Let’s next talk about officials. The Washington Officials Association is estimating a minimum of a 30% drop in available officials to do the games due to officials being older and many with potential underlying health conditions they simply don’t want to take a chance. How about bus drivers? They tend to be older and retired plus how many can you get on a bus.

No fans or severely limited number of fans able to attend will destroy the ticket gate that most schools rely on to fund all sports and other activities funded through the ASB. Let’s then look at the medium risk Fall sports, Volleyball and Soccer. Volleyball seems to be troublesome simply because being inside and close quarters. Soccer although outside there is plenty of close contact sweating and heavy breathing to make it complicated at its best.

As we mentioned the WIAA along with the Districts, Leagues and Schools have all been planning for different scenarios including shifting football to Spring to give them the best chance to not only play but play with fans. Two thoughts there include picking up football and put it in with the other Spring sports and maybe allowing kids to compete in more than one sport at the same time. Or switch Spring sports that are medium risk and have a better chance of happening in the Fall than Football. The argument against this is that Spring sports just had their season cancelled and if they couldn’t go in the Fall they would lose a 2nd year before any of the others lost one. Then there was the idea of pushing all the seasons from January to the end of June with condensed seasons for everyone.

We think all of these ideas have merit what we don’t understand is what we call the “low hanging fruit” approach. Again, we don’t see how football is done this Fall and just in the past 24 hours of this being written the New Mexico High School association has moved football to Spring and the NWAC (2-year colleges) have moved all Fall sports but Cross Country to the Spring. Several college’s have cancelled in person classes and sports. The Big Ten is trimming games on the front end of the schedule including Michigan at U-W. Washington has pushed back their start date already and other states considering a later start or moving Football to Spring or flipping Spring and Fall sports are Arizona, California, Texas, Ohio, Tennessee and Florida that we know of officially. No question every state is evaluating their individual circumstances.

We also think with all the movement of college’s already and more to come that the concern of moving High School football to the Spring will impact the small percent that will go on to play college football, (less than 10% of ALL High School Athletes go on to play any kind of college sports) with their Freshman years at College. If college’s are not playing or playing in the Spring we can’t believe any of them would have a problem with their recruit getting that critical year of experience as a Senior in the Spring. If it does impact a few kids, yes they would be the highly recruited kids but they then would have to make a choice but we can not hold up the best opportunity to play a sport because of a potential impact on a very few number of players.

So what to do? We think there has been a missed discussion opportunity, at least publicly, we believe the WIAA likely has thought of this and made plans but we would support looking at this next by risk factor and not traditional sport seasons. Here is what we mean.

We think we should look at this maybe backwards. Let’s start with low risk sports this Fall. It will take a lot to cancel golf where they could even reduce play to twosomes for guaranteed social distancing and wearing a mask would not interfere with play. Golf, Tennis and boys soccer are the oddities in Washington State sports as some leagues and districts play these sports in both Fall and Spring except soccer it is the B boys in Fall and the other 4 classifications in Spring.

But let’s move all golf to Fall including the State Championship. Let’s move all Tennis to Fall including the State Championships. Tennis may be reduced to playing singles. Cross Country with a staggered start system can remain in the Fall. We believe it will be tough NOT to be able to do these sports in the Fall.

We would then add track and Field and this is where maybe we combine Track and Field with Cross Country or not just an idea. But track events can easily be held starting with the field events. Each competitor would have to complete all 3 of their throws at one time. Let’s say the shot put. You get 3 tosses you come up and toss them and you’re done. Social distance and masks are easy to accomplish including those who officiate the event. Maybe events using landing pits like High jump and pole vault would not be able to be held because of trying to disinfect the pads after each competitor could be a problem.

For running events each event could be lane only events with every other one skipped including the 400 meter. Maybe the 800 and for sure the 1600 are dropped in favor of cross country. Again, these are starting points of discussions not a take it or leave it but it seems like something could be worked out and with those protocols in place it would seem that track and field would be hard to cancel as well. Girls Swimming and Diving may also get done in the Fall, the concern with swimming is not contact but so many droplets with the high humidity of the indoor pool setting. But every other lane and distancing may work for them too.

We would strongly encourage scheduling Boys Soccer, Baseball and Softball at this time. Track, Baseball and Softball are all medium low risk and would have a shot with a little improvement to be played, we think soccer might be right in the middle of the medium risk sports. If playing in the Fall couldn’t happen these sports wouldn’t be cancelled they would be moved back to Spring where there is already talk of putting football in with these sports so worst case scenario is what is already being planned, this simply gives these sports the first chance to be played.

If we could get all of these sports in the Fall we’d have Golf State October 20 and 21 (Tuesday-Wednesday). State Track and Cross Country if combined October 22, 23 and 24 (Thursday thru Saturday). If Cross Country remains separate then leave their current schedule intact. Baseball and Fastpitch would play a regular season through October 10, Districts (whatever format) would then be Monday, October 12 thru Saturday, October 17. Regionals on Friday October 23 or Saturday, October 24 this gives 2 days to get games in and maybe add Thursday, October 22 as a 3rd choice. State would be Friday, October 30 and Saturday, October 31. Boys soccer would be played during the current girls calendar and Girls Swimming and Diving would be unchanged.

We’d move girls soccer with volleyball no matter what because especially with smaller schools there is so much dependence on multi-sport athletes that they have made their choice between sports that normally line-up with each other like volleyball and girls soccer, baseball and boys soccer for example. So this would limit the pressure on the student athletes to make a choice they normally would not have to make.

For Winter we normally have Boys and Girls Basketball, Wrestling, Girls Bowling, Boys Swimming and Diving and Girls Gymnastics. These are all in the medium risk sports except Wrestling which is clearly high risk. The Fall sports that would not have played under our plan is Football a high risk sport and medium risk sports Volleyball and Girls Soccer and Girls Slowpitch.

Basketball is high medium and in fact many do not understand how hoops is not a high risk sport with the close contact, heavy breathing and sweating in gymnasiums. So best case scenario is Basketball is high-medium risk. So where do we go from here? We think the high risk sports need all the time possible for a vaccine or treatment or for us to get the infection rate down so immediately Football and Wrestling should be moved to Spring. Yes we know there is crossover in these sports but we simply don’t see a path early enough and both need as much time as possible so they both need to go to Spring. Girls Soccer would be in the Spring flipping with the boys to simply keep sports aligned to help the multi-sport athletes not have to choose outside the norm.

We would add Slowpitch to Spring as well, first there are far fewer schools offering slowpitch and it can’t be played in the winter nor do we want it up against Fastpitch. Slowpitch may be completely endangered if it is forced to be played at the same time as Fastpitch it’s only chance is opposite Fastpitch and if Slowpitch can be played in the Fall so can Fastpitch and our druthers is for Fastpitch to get to go first.

So Football, Wrestling, Girls Soccer and Slowpitch are now in the Spring. This leaves Basketball, Volleyball, Girls Bowling, Boys Swimming and Girls Gymnastics. We say Bowling, Swimming and Diving and Gymnastics all stay on their regular schedule if possible. If they have to move then they have to move at this point we will take what we can get but ideally these sports can stay in their lane.

This leaves Basketball and Volleyball. Again, basketball is high-medium whereas Volleyball is no more than right in the middle of medium. There is more access to spacing and no doubt the girls sweat and play hard but there are breaks between points and the exertion is not the same as an up and down basketball game. So if conditions won’t allow Basketball maybe Basketball has to be moved to Spring and Volleyball go in the winter. The problem here is of course gym space for both sports so they can not go at the same time. Maybe conditions for Volleyball are ok in November and we start Volleyball in early November there will be some crossover with Girls Soccer but Fastpitch will be done by then.

Maybe Volleyball is done by the last week in January and Basketball starts in February and by March 15 the State Tournament then opening up for Football to go through Late March, April, May and early June if need be. Or Basketball can be played normally and Volleyball is simply moved to Spring.

We did not forget about Cheer, Dance and Drill. First I think we would need to maybe modify the competition so all of it can be done over 2-3 days. Or simplify it and anytime we can get it in from January thru June we do it. These activities are actually in the high risk level due to all the “cheering” yelling that spreads droplets and then the physical contact of dance routines and stunting. Maybe since the State Football would be in the Spring we tie in these events with the conclusion of the school year.

If this is nothing other than making us feel better by writing out our thoughts then we are okay with this but we do believe the approach should be what we are likely to be able to do and begin that planning now. There is no doubt in our minds moving Football to Spring right now is going to give Football the best chance to played and to be played as normally as possible. It has already changed by pushing back the season 2 weeks.

Let’s do the sports we can to full completion. Leaving sports like golf and tennis split in the Fall and Spring make no sense this year, frankly it doesn’t make any sense to us to begin with but this year play those season in the Fall and finish them. Football, Wrestling, Cheer, Dance, Drill and Slowpitch should all be moved to Spring now. There is no point in continuing to plan or spend time on schedules and protocols to something that needs as much time as possible to be played as normally as possible if at all.

We know this is easy for us to spout off about and say to the WIAA you should do this and you should do that but there is some reality that needs to be taken into consideration. 1) Governor Inslee is not going to do an about face on his policies especially when he feels it is helping him politically in this election year. Again, don’t care what your thoughts or opinions are this is reality he is not going to all of a sudden lighten requirements.

2) Financially many schools rely on the revenue raised from football and basketball games especially. We don’t want to reduce this to dollars and cents but how the heck is a school that relies on 50% of their athletic budget come from ticket sales and then play the seasons without fans make up that revenue? It’s not like the State is rolling in dough right now and yes if there is no choice we will play with no fans but the BEST chance to play normally other than dates on a calendar is Spring. Period.

3) Officials, Bus Drivers, Custodians, ticket takers, P-A Announcers, score-keepers and timers have a large population of older folks with either age or health issues that put them in a high risk level for infection and many are simply not going to do it. Moving these sports also gives them more time to feel comfortable knowing maybe there is a vaccine or treatment.

These are three facts, not thoughts or opinions, facts. This is why it is time for decisive action from the WIAA Executive Board and formulate a plan so everyone can focus their planning. There is still a chance, a good chance that we won’t be any further along than we are now but by making some of these decisions now lessons the options for planning purposes.

No doubt it could all go up in flames  and we will have competing sports up against each other or extremely reduced seasons yes all that can happen but we should be planning 100% on best chance to play. When is it for each sport? and lets play as many sports as possible as soon as it is possible. In our view the high risk sports are not possible until the Spring.

Regardless of what the WIAA decides we will be there to cover as much as possible of any sport that gets to compete. We will 100% support their decisions and the path they take and not for second do we believe we have the answers to everything but we do have beliefs and that is simply what we expressed here.

There is one more fact…FACT we should have included and it’s pretty simple, if you want kids in school buildings and on the fields and courts this year put on a mask, stay 6 feet away, wash your hands and pay attention to your own body and listen to it. If it is saying I need a break then give it one until you know what you are dealing with. In the past when you felt ill and competed through it some may use the phrase “what a heroic effort”! Now that heroic effort would be to make sure you don’t get anyone else sick.

Be safe, be healthy and please let’s support the folks at the WIAA and understand they have an impossible task and that you are likely not going to get everything you may want. Let’s support and appreciate officials and let’s stop with the personal attacks on those that we need to have games, appreciate the coaches for their time and effort they spend with your kids. Most of all let us never take our privilege of competing, coaching, announcing, being involved or simply being a fan of High School sports lightly ever again.

 

www.elisportsnetwork.com

 

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