School officials unclear on status of fall sports
Guidelines vary for football, volleyball and cross country
July 9, 2020
By Rick Nelson and Diana Zimmerman
The covid-19 pandemic and subsequent responses to ensure people's health and safety are creating great uncertainty for school systems, and as July begins, participation in fall sports.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) and other governing agencies have published guidelines for programs, including allowing some summer activities, but nothing is certain.
During its July 7 meeting, the WIAA Executive Board took action to delay the start of the fall season until September 5 for football and September 7 for all other fall sports.
Like most coaches and other educators, Wahkiakum High School football coach Eric Hansen wonders what covid-19 will bring to the fall season. The National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has determined that Football is high risk.
High risk sports involve close, sustained contact between participants, lack of significant protective barriers, and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between participants.
"Covid has really put a damper on things for the moment," Hansen said last week. "The WIAA has offered their guidelines, and they mirror the NFHS guidelines, but nowhere in the guidelines does it include ‘CONTACT,' so I am not sure what the plan will be.
"My coaching friends are all in the same boat as to what the chances are for playing. We will be proceeding with school policies for weight room use and try to have some team practices this summer, but it could all be for naught."
The WIAA is supposed to publish the final fall schedule of activities and guidelines by July 21, Hansen said. WIAA has extended the time for which coaches may have contact with players during the summer to August 16; normally there is a hiatus between the end of July and beginning of practice in mid- to late-August.
The Mules' 2019 football roster lists 13 juniors who would be eligible for their senior season this fall.
Following are some of the WIAA guidelines for schools in counties with a Phase 3 or 4 status:
Workouts should be conducted in “pods” of students with the same 5-10 (includes coaches and participants) always working out together. This ensures more limited exposure if someone develops an infection.
There must be a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times. Appropriate physical distancing will need to be maintained on sidelines and benches during practices.
Individual drills requiring the use of athletic equipment are permissible, but the equipment should be cleaned prior to use by the next individual.
No pre-game and post-game handshakes/high-fives/fist bumps.
All field equipment should be cleaned and sanitized after set up and before contest.
Coaches, officials and other contest personnel must wear cloth face coverings at all times.
Volleyball is considered a moderate risk for covid-19, meaning it involves sustained, close contact, However, participants could lower the risk with cleaning and the wearing of masks, according to guidelines from the WIAA.
"Just as the COVID 19 restrictions have made teaching a challenging time, coaching and sport as we know it will present its own set of challenges, Mules volleyball Coach Kayli Hurley said in an email. "However, with those challenges, we as a staff have already shown that we are ready to rise to a challenge, and I know the same will be true in the coaching and athletics arena.
"Full disclosure--the guidelines are daunting at first, and having an effective practice will take a lot of stepping outside of my comfort zone and outside of what I already know. We already have some systems in place that can be slightly tweaked in order to work with the guidelines, but it will definitely be a work in progress as the athletes, my coaching staff and myself move through this season.
"I am hearing that it's likely that season will happen in some capacity, but my own personal concern lies in the uptick in cases nationwide and the impact that might have on whether or not we can compete come fall."
The Mules' 2019 volleyball roster lists eight juniors who would be eligible for their senior season this fall.
Current recommendations are as follows:
Modified practices may begin during Phase 3, with unchanging pods of athletes of coaches numbering no more than 10 working out together.
For contests with other schools, face masks are recommended during the captain’s meeting, and the coin toss would be eliminated, with the visiting team serving first in set one, and teams alternating thereafter. There would be no pre- or post- game handshakes, high fives, or fist bumps. Nets, standards, and official stands should be sanitized after set up and before a contest.
Each team is responsible for their own hand sanitizer and medical kit, as well as towels to wipe sweat off the floor. Benches would be eliminated, with teammates standing no closer than six feet from the court.
There would be no switching benches between sets, and teams would only switch sides if there was a clear disadvantage. Players will be required to use hand sanitizer when entering and exiting the court. Only players will be allowed to touch the ball, and the ball should be set on the floor during a time out.
Face masks are required for officials, coaches, and other event personnel. Officials will not have access to a locker room, and must come dressed to officiate. The officials table would be limited to the home team scorer, a libero tracker and timer. The visiting team personnel will need to find another location.
The guidelines permit the use of cloth face coverings and gloves, long sleeves and long pants. Officials may wear long sleeves, cloth face coverings, gloves, and electronic whistles are recommended.
Cross country is considered lower risk. During Phase 3, schools can hold competitions with field sizes up to 50, but guidelines include staggered starts and finishes that do not encourage congestion. Grouping athletes at the beginning or end of races, or during transitions is not recommended. No pre- or post- race handshakes or fist bumps will be allowed, and teams should not mass collect warm-ups at the start area, as they have done in the past. Masks are not recommended while running, but are recommended before and after practices and meets.