Football: Shorewood at Stanwood, 11.1.19

Spartan fans and cheelleaders celebrate during Stanwood's 35-13 win over Shorewood on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

Imagine it: football players wearing masks during the coin flip, or reserve volleyball players spaced 6 feet apart rather than bunched on a bench.

As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, athletic directors and coaches around the state haven’t just imagined those details; as potential fall sports seasons for high schools approach, they’ve had to plan them — and scores of others.

“We’re meeting to look at all the possible new requirements — everything from the cleaning of equipment, how you handle equipment, when and where coaches can interact with kids, at what stage each sport can do what,” Stanwood High athletic director Tom Wilfong said. “There’s a lot to plan for.”

Athletic directors have been working with their league counterparts and governing bodies such as the National Federation of High-School Sports and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association. They’ve been closely working with state and local government figures such as the school superintendents and local health agencies; and they’ve worked 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?

The WIAA, the governing body for prep sports in Washington, published its own guidelines earlier this month. It created the document in association with several other agencies, including its own sports-medicine advisory committees. Some of the guidelines apply across all sports, such as the volleyball requirement that the ball be left on the court during timeouts, insuring that only players handle it.

The NFHS and WIAA officials said they believe “it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of high school students across the nation to return to physical activity and athletic competition.”

In addition to health screenings before practices and games, new hygiene processes, and social distancing regulations, the WIAA guidelines assign different risk factors of each fall sport.

For counties in Phase 3, gatherings would be capped at 50 people. Lower-risk sports (cross country, swimming, golf) can return in Phase 3. Moderate-risk sports (basketball, volleyball, baseball, softball, soccer) may return in Phase 4.

The WIAA’s guidance did not describe how higher-risk sports (wrestling and football) can resume competitions, however the NFHS guidance says modified practices could begin for under Phase 3.

Even with procedures coming into focus, lots of questions remain ... and given the outbreak’s unpredictability, it’s impossible to know what changes may be waiting around the corner.

The WIAA guidance document notes, “There will also likely be variation in what sports and activities are allowed to be played and held.”

The WIAA may address and answer some remaining questions during its July 7 Executive Board meeting.

Some nonschool-related sports, such as club baseball, are already taking place on Camano Island, which is in Phase 3 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan.

Wilfong said Snohomish County will likely need to be in Phase 3 before school teams can start gathering again.

“We’re continuing to put together plans for when we get to Phase 3,” he said. “We have our Wesco league schedule and we’re planning a normal season. But obviously that depends on what we can and can’t do according to the health department.”

Contact reporter Evan Caldwell at ecaldwell@scnews.com and follow him on Twitter @Evan_SCN for updates throughout the week and on Instagram @evancaldwell.scn for more photos.

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