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Thousands petition Gov. Inslee to allow fall sports for WA student athletes

Football players from Lancaster High School run through drills and conditioning during football practice on August 18, 2020 in Lancaster, Ohio. (Photo by Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

For high school kids hoping to participate in sports, 2020 has been a disappointing year, but some students want to change that. A petition filed on behalf of a group called Student Athletes of Washington is asking the governor to allow them to play this fall.

Senior Cole Norah is the student-athlete who wrote that petition, and is a running back at Mount Si High School.

“Really, the petition was just a small part of what we’re trying to do, and it ended up blowing up, as much as we can see now,” Norah said. “… We didn’t have the intention of getting it that big, but it so happened like that. Our goal is to get as many people as we can [Thursday] down at the Capitol building and really speak to what we believe in and hopefully to get Governor Inslee on our side.”

The do’s and don’ts of youth sports during a pandemic

In the argument for playing football and other fall sports, which have currently been pushed to the spring, Norah says the consequences of not playing outweigh the potential negatives of playing.

“That’s kind of the main question that people are asking right now,” he said. “And our answer is really the negatives of not playing fall sports and not being in school greatly outweigh the negatives of us being able to be in school and be playing fall sports right now.”

“It really helps for student athletes to be in a controlled environment and their own schools, monitored by coaches and administration, rather than to have them running around doing what they do, especially with COVID,” Norah added.

Norah thinks returning to fall sports could be the safer option, even as the virus is still present.

“We just look at the other 36 states that are playing right now and there’s proof that they’re doing it correctly and they’re doing it safely, and to our knowledge, and we’ve done a ton of research on this, there haven’t really been a spike of cases in any of these states that are playing right now,” he said. “So I think there’s proof that it can be done safely, and we’re doing all the research we can to look into that and to get that going here, if we can.”

Personally, Norah says he played six or seven games in his junior year and just didn’t get enough film for college coaches. They’ve wanted to see more from him in the off-season, but without having a guaranteed season this fall, or even in the spring, it’s going to be “tricky” to get attention from colleges. He thinks this year was the most important season for him, and for a ton of other student athletes.

The harm of playing football in the spring, Norah said, would primarily impact the younger classes, though it also creates a challenge in terms of signing day for seniors.

“Especially for a sport, like a full contact sport like football, it’s really hard to get two seasons, if we’re assuming we’d start again [next fall] for the junior and sophomore and freshman class,” he said. “It’s really hard to start another season in September, meaning there would be two full football seasons in eight months, which I think would just be really tough on kids’ bodies.”

“And aside from that, national signing day for NCAA, they haven’t said it’s been pushed back or anything like that, so if we go by spring season, national signing day would be February 16, I think it is,” Norah added. “And then our season would start on the 17th.”

On Thursday, Norah said he hopes student athletes across all fall sports show up in Olympia to speak about what they believe in and, hopefully, get Gov. Inslee’s attention.

“We’re trying to get as many football players to come, but also girls’ soccer, volleyball, cross country, tennis, all those fall sports to get down there,” he said. “Our thought is that it’s better to be playing all fall sports, not just football. We need as many people as we can get down there as possible.”

The governor’s office did release a statement recognizing the importance of youth sports, but tough choices have to be made to protect the health of everyone and prevent any further spread of the virus. Show host Ursula Reutin pointed out there’s nothing in the statement that completely rules out any chance of fall sports.

Norah is holding on to that hope in petitioning the governor, and the WIAA, to let athletes play.

“The petition was actually directed, it says Jay Inslee as number one, but the other, if you look there’s another name on there, it’s the Washington Interscholastic Activities Administration,” Norah said. “… But then the WIAA did come out and say that they’re ready to go, I guess, whenever they get the OK from Governor Inslee.”

“And we’re not saying that Governor Inslee’s done a terrible job. No, that’s not it at all,” he added. “… But we’re seeing that other states are doing this, so I think it’s time that we can do that.”

As a high school student now facing his senior year remotely, Norah says it’s been tough, but is optimistic that it will get better.

“It’s just been kind of tough, but we’re trying to get through it as best we can because, I mean, this is not really the worst of COVID at all,” he said. “There’s families out there who are in much worse situations than what we are in, and other countries around the world, and I think it’s just — to put it in perspective, I think what we’re going through, it’s tough, but it’s not the end of the world.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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