Imagine it: football players wearing masks during the coin flip, or volleyball players sitting on the bench 6 feet apart rather than being bunched up.
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, local high school athletic directors and coaches haven’t just imagined those scenarios. As potential fall sports seasons approach, they’ve had to plan for them — and scores of others.
To that end, Skagit County’s athletic directors have banded together to develop consistent, countywide standards for what high school sports will look like. Practices potentially begin in August.
“It’ll be a strange and interesting world,” Concrete Athletic Director and baseball coach Randy Sweeney said. “It’s all new. Everything is changing. Everything we do, we have to invent.”
Sedro-Woolley Athletic Director Jerry Gardner has led the effort to come up with standards.
“I don’t think anyone in the state has dealt with anything like this. This is unprecedented work ... lots of logistics, lots of things to think through. We haven’t even started to think about what competitions look like; a lot of consideration is toward getting kids working with coaches,” he said. “Everyone’s heads are spinning.”
While athletic directors often handle tasks such as juggling schedules and filling coaching vacancies, COVID-19 has given them much more to do this summer.
The county’s athletic directors have been working with governing bodies such as the National Federation of High School Sports and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), with school superintendents and local health agencies, and with the Washington School Risk Management Pool, which handles insurance coverage.
The main question is how to keep student-athletes, coaches and officials safe. But from that question springs many others.
How many athletes can be in the weight room at once? How often will frequently handled equipment such as volleyballs and footballs need to be disinfected? How often will athletes undergo temperature checks to make sure COVID isn’t lurking?
“All the extra work involved — coaches will be health care experts, janitors, cleaning experts,” Sweeney said.
The WIAA published sports guidelines last week. It created the document with help from other groups, including its own sports medicine advisory committee.
Some of the guidelines apply across all sports, such as the volleyball requirement that the ball be left on the court during timeouts, ensuring that only players handle it.
Local athletic directors have worked to coordinate their written plan with the WIAA’s guidelines. The athletic directors say the good relationships they’ve built with each other over the years helped make the process relatively easy.
“My experience as an AD has been that all the ADs in the county get along. We’re all about our kids first and foremost, but we care about all the kids and work together when we need to get stuff done,” Gardner said.
Some sports-related activities are primed to take place when the county is approved for Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Safe Start plan.
Even with procedures coming into focus, lots of questions remain. And given the pandemic’s unpredictability, it’s impossible to know what changes may be around the corner.
Anacortes Athletic Director Erik Titus said, “It’s a moving target. You set up contingency plans, and maybe on one of the three targets you’ll hit part of the mark.”
The WIAA guidance document admits as much: “There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held.”
“The worst part about that is while we feel like we have a good plan, there’s always the uncertainty of, what does tomorrow bring?” Gardner said.