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Traditional fall sports are back to first in line.
The WIAA Executive Board voted on Wednesday to move football, cross country, slowpitch, soccer, swim and dive and volleyball to the first season in its COVID-revised 2021 calendar with practices starting as early as Feb. 1.
That’s, of course, only set to take place in regions that reach Phase 2 of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s new Healthy Washington plan released Tuesday.
READ: Story on the WIAA’s season rearrangement | Story on Gov. Inslee’s new two-phased pandemic reopening plan
The executive board had 24 hours to digest how the new plan would impact high school sports and questions still remain. How difficult will it be under new requirements for regions to move to Phase 2? What about high-risk indoor sports like basketball and wrestling, which went unmentioned in the Governor’s new plan? Still, the board made the decision to prioritize fall sports, which are all able to play games in Phase 2.
Here is a Q-and-A with WIAA Executive Board President Tim Thomsen, who walks through how the decision was made and what is still unknown:
SBLIVE: 24 hours is a quick turnaround to make a decision like the board did (Wednesday night).
THOMSEN: “We were really at a point where we had no choice, just because the guidelines just weren’t going to allow us to follow through with the WIAA plan of having winter sports go first. And because we value those sports, we didn’t want to just dump them, we realized we had to move them to another time. And the new guidelines do allow for all outdoor sports to be played once the new regions get into Phase 2. And so then football would be able to be played. So we chose to go ahead and put our traditional fall sports in season one and also give a little bit of a variance as to when different geographic areas could start, because obviously, the first date is February 1. So some geographic areas, some schools, some leagues may be able to start as early as February 1 with fall sports. But others like in eastern Washington, clearly they’re going to want to wait a little bit (due to winter weather). So they can start as late as Feb. 22, which is about a week prior to when the normal spring sports start across the state. So we’ll have to wait and see how that turns out. But that was the major adjustment that the board made tonight.”
SBLIVE: Why was that first season the only season decided on? And why maintain a condensed three-season format?
THOMSEN: “To the three-season structure, the board felt that was an important thing to keep. But we did not decide on who goes in the second season and who goes in the third. And the main reason is, we don’t have all the details of the governor’s plan yet. We’re not really sure how all of these metrics are going to impact these new regions. What are the possibilities of doing basketball and wrestling in the second season beginning towards the end of March? Or should we just move them to the spring and move spring sports up? So because we didn’t have all the information and didn’t really have good data to make that decision, we chose just to wait … we already had a meeting scheduled for January 19. And so we’re gonna wait until January 19, so we hopefully understand the new guidelines a little bit better, and are able to make a better decision.”
SBLIVE: Going into (Wednesday’s) meeting, my understanding was that with all that was unknown in the wake of the Governor’s announcement Tuesday, making a decision, although it was a priority, was unlikely. How did the board reach a decision?
THOMSEN: “First of all we confirmed again through our discussion that the three-season option is our preferred option. We know that if we get pushed back, probably beyond Feb. 22, that we’re going to have to go to a two-season option. So the first thing that we’re able to kind of make a decision on is yes, we confirm three seasons is important. So what sports can go in Phase 2? Because as we looked at some of the data that we’re starting to get it appeared some of these regions are going to be close to going into Phase 2 pretty soon. So it was real clear to everybody that because of the additional ability to play football — because that’s the high risk outdoor sport, and now they were able to move that into Phase 2, along with soccer and everything else. And volleyball is an indoor sport, but it’s a moderate risk, so they can play in Phase 2. But that really made the most amount of sense. We still wanted to protect our spring sports, and to start spring sports in February, and have all the rain and potential for delays due to COVID outbreaks or whatever, we just felt better to keep spring sports back.
So logically, fall sports kind of fell into the sweet spot. You can do them in Phase 2, and they’re outdoor sports with the exception of volleyball, and we’re going to get some flexibility. So it just kind of came together because we’re really committed to giving kids opportunities to play, to get back on the field, to get back with your teammates and get some competition going, we’re committed to that.
A lot of people think that WIAA makes up all these guidelines. No, that’s the State Department of Health. All we do is take what they give us, and then we try and create the best situation that we can for it. And so we wanted to start something and this was this group of sports that made the most amount of sense.”
SBLIVE: Is it safe to assume because basketball and wrestling are indoor, high-risk sports, which were not addressed in the Governor’s new plan, that those will probably be the last sports to be played, if at all?
THOMSEN: “I think a lot of people would say their gut feeling is that’s probably where it’s gonna land. Again, we didn’t want to make that decision because we really don’t have all the information on how these new metrics and the new guidelines are going to work. And I think we’re comfortable making that decision. But we’re also comfortable, hey, maybe we’ll keep them in the same order they normally go: fall, winter, spring, if it’s probable that basketball and wrestling across the state are going to be able to have a season without a lot of interruptions. If we see that is possible, we get a better understanding for how these new metrics, the regions, how it all works. My gut feeling is that they’ll probably go last but we wanted to just kind of make sure we were making the right decision.”