By Michael Carman
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — A pathway to participation exists for prep athletes this school year after recent changes to the state’s COVID-19 recovery metrics coupled with clarifications received after the WIAA consulted with state health officials and the governor’s office.
New guidelines from the state now allow for low- and moderate-risk indoor sports (volleyball, girls swimming) to practice in groups of 6 or fewer during Phase 1. Likewise, high-risk outdoor sports (football) may also hold practices in groups of 6 or fewer.
Moderate-risk outdoor sports (girls soccer) can hold full-team practices and intra-squad scrimmages in Phase 1. Scrimmages against other teams are not permitted.
Competitive events for low-risk outdoor sports (cross country) can be held in Phase 1 with no spectators allowed.
Under all guidelines, masks must be worn at all times, by athletes, coaches and officials.
Season 1 (traditional fall sports) practices are set to begin Feb. 1 for what will be an expanded Olympic League under the Northwest Region umbrella, the four-county region consisting of Clallam, Jefferson, Kitsap and Mason counties grouped together under the new public health matrices.
A seven-week competitive season would run through March 21. The number of required practices has been cut, so some competitions could begin as early as the week of Feb. 8 if the region can move to Phase 2.
“We are going to remain the Olympic League and we will have potentially 13 schools,” Port Angeles athletic director and Olympic League president Dwayne Johnson said.
The league will be made up of Port Angeles, Sequim, a combined Port Townsend-Chimacum program, North Kitsap, Kingston, Olympic, Klahowya, Central Kitsap, Bremerton, South Kitsap, Shelton, North Mason and potentially Bainbridge, which is expected to decide on joining the league by Monday.
“Competitive balance is a big aspect for the safety of the kids, so the larger schools will match with the larger schools and the smaller schools will play against similar-sized schools as much as possible,” Johnson said.
One football division would include Sequim, North Kitsap, Central Kitsap, South Kitsap, Bremerton and Bainbridge.
The other gridiron division would include Port Angeles, Port Townsend/Chimacum, Kingston, Klahowya, North Mason and Shelton.
In other sports, the league would be split into a Port Angeles, Sequim, Port Townsend/Chimacum, Kingston, Klahowya and Olympic division and a Bainbridge, Bremerton, Central Kitsap, South Kitsap, North Kitsap, North Mason and Shelton division.
To move into Phase 2 of the new Healthy Washington re-opening plan, All four Northwest Region counties must meet four requirements in order to allow expanded practice sessions and for high school to hold competitions. This includes a 10 percent decreasing trend in case rates; 10 percent decrease in hospital admission rates; 90 percent or less occupancy at hospital intensive care units; 10 percent or less test positivity rate.
The Northwest Region met three of four metrics in data released Friday, missing out on the decrease in hospital admission rates with a rise of 114 percent in a two-week period coming after Christmas and including the first nine days of 2021.
If the region can reach Phase 2, attendance would be limited to 200 for outdoor sports and 25-percent capacity for indoor sports. That includes all competitors, coaches and officials, further limiting that number.
“Capacity for in-person events is going to be minimal from parents and community members,” Johnson said.
The district has extensive experience in livestreaming contests through its student-driven digital production team or through the NFHS Network.
“We are in synch with them so we can go ahead and stream our games from our fans and the away teams and provide an activity that is essential for their learning in broadcast and production,” Johnson said.
Port Angeles School Board member Sarah Methner said she would like to see expanded livestreaming of athletic and other events continue after COVID-19.
“This is something I would like to see continue in perpetuity,” Methner said. “We may have grandparents in Kenosha, Wisconsin who want to see [student school board representative] Maizie Tucker perform gymnastics.”
If the 2020-2021 school year had been a normal one, Forks would have opened its first season as a member of the Class 2B Pacific League in most sports, according to Spartans athletic director Kyle Weakley.
Due to the lack of 2B schools in the Northwest region, Forks decided to stick with the plan and compete against its new league partners.
“We are in the 2B Pacific League, primarily Grays Harbor and Pacific County schools,” Weakley said. “For some of our sports, we co-mingle with the Chehalis area schools. Our path moving forward is working with our new league and the Central League in putting things together.”
Football is divided into divisions with other Southwest District 2B schools by perceived competitive level — and Forks, a solid 1A team last season, will face some of the more challenging teams.
“We have a football schedule that we have adopted, Kalama, Pe Ell-Willapa Valley, Rainier, Onalaska [2B state champions in 2019],” Weakley said.
“After our meeting [Friday], it was decided we are going to move forward with a Feb. 1 start date for Season 1. “With football we are going to basically plug and play, if Kalama is not going to be able to play week one, we would seek out a team in our region for a game, but we would continue through the schedule and not make up the Kalama game.
There are more opportunities to play other Season 1 sports such as girls soccer and volleyball and more time to make those games up, so games that are put off could potentially return later on the schedule.
Weakley is looking into live streaming games as attendance will be limited.
“We had a long, long talk about that today,” Weakley said. “We are trying to coordinate with the Central League to make sure parents and fans are on the same page. If you are a traveling team, the amount of essential staff and players that you need is all you will be able to bring [to away games].
“We have discussed some sort of priority for attending games, starting with senior parents at the event. And we are looking into live streaming for folks who can’t be there.”
Class 1B schools
Quilcene, Crescent, Clallam Bay and Neah Bay all are looking to return to practices Feb. 1 for volleyball and football.
“We are trying to gear up and I honestly think we are going to start practice Feb. 1,” Crescent superintendent Dave Bingham said. “They may be socially distanced practices depending on what phase we are in.”
Neah Bay has been in the conversation on re-starting prep sports, Bingham said.
“They have some very strict protocols and their tribal council over the next three or four weeks will have to approve their return, but they have been asked to be included in schedule making for volleyball and football,” Bingham said.
Cape Flattery School District Superintendent Michelle Parkin said district officials are working toward meeting tribal health requirements.
“With the proper safety plan submitted I am confident that we will be able to get athletes participating, but all of those components have to be in place,” Parkin said.
Bingham said the North Olympic League met Friday to develop a volleyball schedule and football will follow.
Quilcene will be on the NOL volleyball schedule, Rangers athletic director Mark Thompson confirmed, and will also likely play football against as many NOL teams as it they can.
“Definitely volleyball for sure,” Thompson said. “We are kind of in a wait-and-see approach with football to see how many teams will be available to play. But its a no-brainer to play Crescent.”
Other Northwest Region teams that are in the mix are Crosspoint [a Class 2B private school in Kitsap County] and Mason County school Mary M. Knight.
“We are looking at ways of building some schedules with teams we know are going to be in the same phase of the governor’s plan,” Bingham said.
Bingham also hinted at some “very tough decisions” that may have to be made regarding fan attendance.
“We are looking at opportunities to stream those events, looking into the in’s and outs,” Bingham said. “It won’t be like ESPN or Fox Sports.”
Sports reporter Michael Carman can be contacted at 360-406-0674 or [email protected] news.com.