Creativity, flexibility key to prep sports this year

Mark Krulish

Mark Krulish

Believe it or not, the 2021 high school sports season is nearing the finish line.

We’re just shy of four months since competitions returned to the West Sound with a six-team cross country meet at North Mason High School. Even considering that schools have crammed three seasons into that short amount of time, it still feels like just yesterday things were getting started.

In that time, we’ve spent hours waiting with bated breath to see which counties would move up or down in the state’s phased COVID-19 reopening plan. Then the entire state moved to Phase 3, then just a few moved back, then there was a pause, and then there was a target date set for complete reopening at the end of this month.

I remember well the media briefing held over Zoom last July that dealt with moving some higher-risk fall sports to spring and shortening the high school sports season in response to the continuing pandemic. Mick Hoffman, the WIAA executive director, described the situation as “fluid” and that the dates were “definitely written in pencil.”

That accurately describes the past four months. Games were postponed, moved to different locations, and rescheduled to give the student-athletes the chance to play as much as possible. It required a high level of creativity and flexibility, something virtually everyone in the high school sports world, from the administrators to the coaches and players, have exhibited in spades.

But the first two seasons were just a warm-up for Season 3, which was always going to be the most precarious as it has a number of high-risk sports, including basketball, wrestling and water polo.

Inventiveness and imagination, however, once again took center stage.

For wrestling, the solution was relatively simple — take it outside. And one of our local teams, South Kitsap, got the chance to do so, wrestling on the field at Art Crate Stadium in Spanaway. It’s an idea that has caught hold here in Kitsap as well, as the Olympic League’s wrestling tournament is tentatively scheduled to begin June 9 on the football field at Bainbridge High School.

But basketball was more troublesome, at least until the Tacoma News Tribune in early May reported that Pierce County schools would play their home games at three open-air courts at the Washington State Fairgrounds in Puyallup, which was allowed under Phase 2 guidelines.

South Kitsap, which plays in the South Puget Sound League with Olympia and eight Pierce County Schools, were allowed to host games and scheduled varsity double-headers. But everyone else would call the fairgrounds home for the next few weeks.

What stood out to me in that story was the summary of a conversation between Curtis athletic director Suzanne Vick and Rogers girls basketball coach Amy Looker: “Really, the bottom line of the text message she sent me was, no can’t be the answer,” Vick said in the TNT story.

I think that really underlines in bold the mentality driving all involved. After Seasons 1 and 2 went off with very few hitches in the West Sound, Season 3 could not be allowed to fall short even with the challenges that loomed on the horizon.

As it turned out, Pierce County teams would be able to return home by mid-May after Gov Jay Inslee moved all counties in Phase 2 to Phase 3, but the creative thinking from all involved was impressive, and Season 3 went forward because of it.

It hasn’t been perfect — we have had a few COVID-related cancellations and postponements in the past few weeks — but it has certainly been worth the effort. In just about every interview I’ve done this year, whether the subject was a player, coach or administrator, some variation of, “I’m just so happy to have a season,” would invariably come up.

Although we’re getting ready to wrap up high school sports for 2021, the memory of this abbreviated year will linger on for a long time to come.

Mark Krulish is a reporter and columnist for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at mkrulish@soundpublishing.com.

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