While it’s still unknown exactly what the fall sports season will look like for high schools across Kitsap County, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association has released sets of guidelines for each sport as they attempt to come back online later this summer and into the fall.
The guidelines are based on the template set forth by the National Federation of State High School Associations last month with Washington-specific details built in, such as cleaning procedures for equipment, guidance on the number of participants at a practice and how best to keep them as distanced as possible, and when and how contests should proceed connected to Washington’s four-phased “Safe Start” reopening plan.
“This is a very, very fluid situation and so if there are updates that come to this, we will make sure we that also get that information out,” said WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman.
As organizations, the NFHS and WIAA both believe that physical activity and athletic competition are essential to the physical and mental well-being of high school students, but that returning to competition does prevent some challenges, especially with the current prediction that there will be some kind of larger recurrence of COVID-19 later in the fall during the regular flu season.
Simple cloth masks are recommended and state, school district and local guidelines should be followed. They should be worn by every individual staff member not working alone as well as coaches, officials and other game personnel. During regular seasons, teams should attempt to limit as much travel as possible and try to travel in individual vehicles as much as possible.
Some sports, such as football, are deemed higher risk than others because of the sustained close physical contact between players. Unlike most other sports, the WIAA did not specify in which phase games should be played.
For example, the WIAA recommends cross country meets (with fields of 50 or fewer runners) begin in Washington’s Phase 3, while soccer matches begin in Phase 4.
And although in girls swimming — another fall sport — individual events are considered low-risk and relay events are considered moderate-risk, the WIAA also did not provide any specific guidance on when meets should begin.
Kitsap County is currently in Phase 2, which means that workouts can be held with athletes in “pods” — groups of five or less whose membership never changes. The county currently has an application pending with the state Department of Health, which, if accepted, would move local schools into Phase 3. At that point, lower-risk sports can begin holding competitions while other sports can loosen a few restrictions in practices.
Even if particular counties have had success in fending off COVID-19, the WIAA still warned that school districts should not move too quickly, too soon in getting kids back on the field.
“It is absolutely critical that people do not get out in front of this and that we continue to be cautious as we move forward,” Hoffman said.
Here are some more details on the general guidelines for fall sports. Some, such as Water Polo and Golf, had yet to be released by the WIAA as of press time.
In Phase 2, locker rooms should not be used and athletes should report directly to the field in proper gear and shower at home. Workout “pods” should maintain at least 30 feet of distance between others and should always have the same students working out together. Coaches are able to rotate between these pods. There should be no shared athletic equipment and balls used for practices should remain with each pod. If the pod rotates to a different drill, balls should be sanitized during each rotation and then again upon the completion of practice. In volleyball and soccer, there would ideally be one ball for each player.
In cross country, athletes should not be grouped together at the start or end of a run as is typical; staggered starts should be used instead. Masks are not recommended during the race, but are recommended before and after practices and meets.
In Phase 3, cross country, a low-risk sport, can have competitions of 50 or fewer with Phase 2 protocols in place for the larger groups. Other sports can move on to workouts of 50 or less with athletes grouped in pods of 5-10.
In Phase 4, volleyball and soccer competitions can begin in this phase, following WIAA recommendations.
Any pre-game handshakes, fist bumps or other pre- or post-game customs involving physical contact should not take place. In soccer, players should not share pennies, the jerseys used for substitutions, and face coverings should be worn during captains meetings and by players who are not participating. Sidelines should be limited to essential people and the International Walk (in which the two teams take the field for pregame presentations side-by-side down the halfway line before fanning out) is not allowed.
Other customs, such as the switching of benches in volleyball at the end of each set should be eliminated unless game officials deem one side to be advantageous. Hand sanitizer should be used by players substituting during the match.
Football teams should take care to maintain a minimum distance of three to six feet between each individual when not directly participating in a practice or game. School officials can consider using tape or paint as a guide. Players are generally restricted to the “team box” in football and can’t follow the action down the field beyond the 25-yard line. In order to maintain better distancing, that will be extended to the 10-yard line on each side.