Cross country still has the option of conducting its regular season in the fall. (Review file photo)

Cross country still has the option of conducting its regular season in the fall. (Review file photo)

Moving fall sports to spring provides a glimmer of hope for coaches and athletes

There’s nothing quite like combining the crisp, damp Autumn air of the Pacific Northwest with the bright lights of the gridiron.

The fall weather here rivals any other part of the country in terms of comfort and beauty, creating the perfect backdrop to the tradition of Friday evening football games, each week adding maybe a little layer of clothing as temperatures drop and winter approaches.

But with the news that the WIAA will shift fall sports to spring in a modified four-season plan, fans will have to get used to the reverse. Games are set to begin in early March and finish up with a postseason of some kind in late April to early May.

No one knows what the COVID-19 situation will look like in Washington then, but coaches are happy to at least have some hope that there will be some sort of this season.

“I think they made a good decision to involve all sports and all activities to at least give us all a chance to possibly play this year,” South Kitsap football coach Dan Ericson said.

There are certainly far more questions than answers, but given the fluid nature of the pandemic, coaches are still taking a wait-and-see approach, since nothing can happen until Kitsap County advances further along under Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” plan.

That means spring and summer football “never really got off the ground,” Ericson said, since the players and coaches have had no access to school facilities; a fact that would have made fall football far more difficult. Kitsap County has remained in phase 2, which only allows for small groups to workout and practice together, since late May.

But playing in the spring brings its own set of challenges as multi-sport athletes could see an overlap in their sports — especially for those who compete in football and track, or football and baseball, for example. The timing of spring and summer football in preparation for the Fall 2021 season could also be affected, as coaching staffs may need to give their multi-sport athletes a bit more of a break from the rigors of preparing for football.

And it’s not just the athletes who will have to worry about some of that overlap — placing boys and girls soccer in back-to-back seasons could create problems for those who coach both teams, such as Greg St. Peter at North Kitsap.

St. Peter said that he, too, was glad that none of the fall sports were canceled, but then immediately started wondering how a regular season and postseason would fit into a timeframe of about eight weeks. As it is, teams sometimes have three or four matches in a week. The WIAA has left open the possibility of regional champions in each classification rather than playing down to one state champion; it’s up to the leagues to determine who will represent them.

“It’s pretty demanding for the players,” St. Peter said.

The North Kitsap girls have generally been successful in the postseason making three consecutive quarterfinal appearances and could be in the midst of another run as the boys get set to begin practice. Field space could also be an issue as some schools, such as North Kitsap, Bainbridge and South Kitsap, all have lacrosse teams, which is a non-WIAA sanctioned sport, and could overlap with seasons 3 and 4.

“We’re going to do our best to make it work,” St. Peter said. “I have some good coaches and some good volunteers helping out.”

Will there be any fall sports at all?

The prospects for fall sports seem grim. Although Kitsap school districts were set to offer some kind of part-time, in-person instruction, some, including North Kitsap and Central Kitsap, have announced this week they have 100 percent online learning to start the year.

The WIAA’s four-season plan does provide room for a few sports to take place this fall; the association’s board voted Tuesday to approve season 1 as alternate seasons for cross country, tennis, golf, and slowpitch softball. Culminating WIAA events will take place at the end of season 3.

Girls swim and dive typically takes place in the fall as well, but that was moved to season 3 after getting further advice from the Department of Health and school administrators.

Any sport in season 1 that does not take place will be moved to season 3 along with the rest of the traditional fall sports.

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