Washington still has hurdles to clear before student-athletes return to play

Sep 21, 2020, 12:16 PM
return to play, student athlete...
High school football jerseys are seen in the stands before a game between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 20, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

To help answer questions and clarify the status of the “Return-to-Play Process,” the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association issued a statement Sunday, adding that the group “fully understands the desire to return to play.” The WIAA’s top priority is the health and safety of student-participants, while offering equitable opportunities to all students.

The statement was released in partnership with the Washington State Risk Management Pool and Clear Risk after conversations with both the Governor’s Office and the state Department of Health.

Washington pushes most high school sports to spring

In June, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction worked with the DOH and the Department of Labor & Industries to develop guidance for school reopening procedures. These guidelines are constantly reviewed and updated by health officials as more information becomes available and as the pandemic continues. The WIAA Board says they will review any new recommendations and adjust schedules as deemed appropriate.

In order to return to play, WIAA provided a list of five things that are needed.

First, the governor has to recommend a return to play, then the DOH has to provide guidance on the required steps to return to play. Risk management would review any new recommendations in response to both the governor and the DOH. Following approval, school leadership would have to commit to play. The WIAA states that schools would consider a return to play once students are able to return to school, even if that return is in a hybrid model.

More and more counties are able to consider a plan to return as COVID-19 case numbers drop, barring that the downward trends remain for multiple weeks before students safely come back to school buildings. The majority of students in the state (95%) started fall classes online and have not yet returned for in-person learning.

The final two steps outlined by the WIAA to return to play in the fall are that coaches under collective bargaining agreements would then need to support a return to play, after the schools have approved it. Then, the WIAA Executive Board would review the current schedule and guidelines.

Key considerations for a return to play include schools having the necessary resources and ability to meet any new recommendations from local government and health officials. The WIAA would also have to consider what a limited fall season would look like and if it would provide more or less opportunity for the majority of participants.

“Currently, the WIAA Season 3 schedule provides for 7 regular-season contests in the spring plus one additional contest for schools that do not qualify for postseason,” the statement reads.

The WIAA added that the Washington State Football Coaches Association and other coaches have advocated for more games rather than fewer.

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

The WIAA is also considering what students would gain by playing in the fall rather than other seasons, what a realistic start date would be and how much time is needed for students to physically be ready for a safe return, and if a late fall state would disproportionally impact some fall sports — tennis, golf, cross country — due to weather issues.

Read the full statement about the process for returning to sports and activities from the WIAA here.

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Washington still has hurdles to clear before student-athletes return to play