The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association announced dramatic changes Tuesday night to high school sports for the upcoming school year — and cautioned that fans, coaches and players should brace for more changes in a year dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The governing body announced the upcoming school year will be divided into four sports seasons instead of the usual three, and fall sports designated “moderate” or “high” risk — including football, volleyball, girls’ soccer and small-school boys’ soccer — will be played in the spring.
The changes were announced Tuesday after a meeting of the WIAA’s executive board.
Fall sports deemed “low” risk, such as cross country, golf and tennis, may be permitted in the fall. The WIAA executive board is expected to determine next week benchmarks for allowing those sports. It cautioned those sports may also move to the spring.
Officials say they are also exploring whether girls’ swimming and diving can be held in the fall, since that sport’s competitions are held indoors. That determination will be made after further consultation with the state Department of Health.
If fall sports are held, cross country, boys’ tennis and possibly girls’ swimming and diving are the sports that would be played by Skagit County teams.
The tentative schedule released Tuesday proposes four seasons: Season 1 would include cross country, tennis and golf for schools that normally hold those in the fall, and would run from early September to early November; Season 2 would include traditional winter sports such as basketball and wrestling, and would run from early January to early March; Season 3 would include the moderate- and high-risk sports pushed back from fall, such as football, and would run from early March to early May; and Season 4 would include the tradition spring sports such as baseball, softball and track and field and would run from late April to late June.
Coaches of teams that were originally slated to play in the fall but have now been moved to spring say they’re excited to have a potential season to look forward to.
“I was pleasantly surprised ... I’m ecstatic for the seniors that there will be some type of football season,” said Mount Vernon football coach Nic Vasilchek, whose Bulldogs are slated to join the Western 3A Conference. “It was an ingenious idea.”
Burlington-Edison volleyball coach Tawnya Brewer said she was pleased with the move, too, especially since the WIAA calendar won’t force athletes to choose between two sports they normally play.
“That would put coaches and athletes in a tough position,” Brewer said.
She said the new schedule will take some getting used to, especially since, for her, volleyball is so strongly associated with fall.
Sedro-Woolley girls’ soccer coach Gary Warman sounded a similar note.
“For an old dog like me, who for girls’ soccer has been on the field for 41 years in a row in late August, not being there will feel very strange,” he said. “I won’t know what to do with myself.”
Warman said there are still questions to be answered, such as how the shortened seasons will be scheduled in ways that are equitable. But he said he’s thrilled to have a season ahead.
“The seasons they picked are kid-friendly and coach-friendly,” he said.
WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman said at a news conference Tuesday night that everyone will need to be flexible, given the safety and logistical factors brought into play by the pandemic that wiped out all high school sports last spring. He said even the dates of the seasons are tentative.
“When you’re looking at dates, those are definitely written in pencil,” he said.
Greg Whitmore, the WIAA Executive Board president, said of the calendar, “It by no means is set in stone.”
WIAA officials said they considered a range of options, including not scheduling any sports to begin earlier than January.
There are still many details to be worked out, such as what postseason competition may look like.
Hoffman raised the possibility of “regional” state championships held in various parts of the state and resulting in several champions in each classification.
The WIAA is working in consultation with several other organizations and agencies to determine how sports can safely be held. Included are the National Federation of High Schools, the state Department of Health and the office of Gov. Jay Inslee, as well as various committees made up of coaches, students, local health professionals and others.