We’re closer to being normal this fall sports season

All felt right again as I pulled up to South Kitsap High School this week, ready to observe a fall practice for the first time this year.

It was 70 degrees, sunny and pleasant as I strolled over to Ed Fisher Field to see the football team warming up and getting ready for drills. Everything felt right — the weather, the atmosphere, coaches hollering their instructions to players, the sound of pads hitting pads and the cheer of “Wolves win!” followed by claps as players rotated around the field.

Perhaps not everything is quite back to normal, but we’re a heck of a lot closer than we were last fall. Teams and players still have to monitor their health, get tested for COVID-19 if they think they’ve been exposed and need to mask up indoors if they’re not competing. But the teams are all back together again as one.

Not everything is back to normal in terms of league alignment either. Although South Kitsap, Central Kitsap and Klahowya have returned to the South Puget Sound League, South Sound Conference and Nisqually League, respectively, Bainbridge had to remain in the Olympic League for another year.

That opened the door for some scheduling changes. For example, the North Kitsap and Bainbridge football teams typically meet during Week 1 or 2 of the season to take part in their annual Agate Cup rivalry game. With the Spartans back in the Olympic League, that game now takes place later in the season.

But if there’s one thing COVID taught all of us, it was to be nimble in the face of new information, and North Kitsap was able to schedule a Week 2 home game against Lakeside High School, a 3A Metro League team from Seattle. Given the lofty expectations the Vikings have for this season, a good game against a new opponent should serve them well.

That flexibility may still be necessary this year. There’s a shortage of officials in the West Sound with the season rapidly approaching. That could mean holding football games on days other than Friday, and it would make staffing large tournaments in other sports quite difficult. While I enjoyed being able to see more than one football team a week during the abbreviated spring season, overworked crews could end up getting burned out, and, without officials, there won’t be any games.

Let’s hope that doesn’t end up being the case because there are plenty of great stories to follow this season.

The most exciting team to follow this fall could certainly be that North Kitsap football squad. The Vikings return at least eight starters on each side of the ball. They’re fast, they’re talented and experienced, and it could be a special season in Poulsbo if they stay healthy and are able to perform up to expectations.

There are always several formidable volleyball teams around the West Sound, including Kingston, North Kitsap, Bainbridge and Central Kitsap, which should make for some top-notch league matches this season. Central Kitsap placed at the 3A state tournament in 2019, and North Kitsap has been to the 2A state tourney several years in a row now, while Kingston is also a postseason regular.

The same can be said for many of the other sports, including girls soccer, cross country and swimming. Klahowya and Central Kitsap’s girls soccer teams set the standard in the West Sound last year while a few others had young rosters that benefited from getting experience at the varsity level. The cross country and swimming postseasons are never a disappointment either, and as I get in touch with coaches over the next week, I’m excited to see who’s back ready to represent Kitsap.

So, no, not everything is sunshine and rainbows yet, but having players back on the pitches, fields and courts in September does make it seem as though, for a brief moment, everything is right again.