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Many WA students missing out on ‘one time to be in organized sports’

Social distancing signs hang before the high school football game between Davison and Flint Powers Catholic on Sept. 18, 2020 in Davison, Michigan. (Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)

School sports have not yet been allowed to restart in Washington state due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mick Hoffman, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), recently wrote a piece titled: “School Sports and Activities Needed Now More than Ever.”

“High school, for a lot of kids as they’re going through, seems like eternity or a lifetime,” Hoffman told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show. “But as we get older, it’s a short snapshot in time. But so much of our experience, life experiences, are based off of that starting point.”

He wasn’t sure of the exact statistic but says the majority of students who participate in sports, as well as band, drama, and other activities, don’t play or continue after high school.

“So this is their one time to be in organized sports,” he said. “There’s adult leagues and things like that, but it’s not quite the same as having your high school name on your uniform, or competing in front of large crowds. … It’s incredibly sad not to be able to offer that. We’re hoping to be able to give a portion of that back this spring.”

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Hoffman says he’s hopeful there will be a return to sports after the holidays.

“The spike we’re seeing right now is not unexpected based on earlier predictions,” he said. “And again, this thing is so, you know, the word fluid keeps getting used. But it wasn’t that long ago we had the surgeon general telling us masks didn’t help. Now we know masks are the most important thing.”

“Over the last eight months, our scientists, medical professionals, and individuals, we’ve gotten a lot more information, and this spike was predicted,” he added. “The reason our board moved the start date to February 1 for season two is that we’re anticipating through the holidays, people wanting to get together, human nature, that we’ll continue to ride this thing out for a while. But that gives us four weeks, essentially, in January, to bend that curve and to then allow our experience of what we found from other states around the country that have played successfully.”

Hoffman anticipates that low-risk sports, if nothing else, can begin again in February.

“And ideally, in the next two months, if we can get permission to play with masks that also limit [the spread], we can play all our sports starting in the spring,” he added.

Hoffman emphasized that the social and emotional impact on students of not going to school or participating in sports has to be factored in to decisions of how and when to resume activities.

“We also have had some coaches submit some videos of students just being so thankful for the opportunity, even though they’re not playing games, they’re just in the gym shooting together. They’re out on the field running sprints,” he said. “Now think back to when you coached, Dori, how many kids thank you for the opportunity to run sprints? And they’re actually embracing and appreciating that.”

“So that alone tells me how important it is just to be around each other, and interacting, and activities that give them some relief from all the doom and gloom we’re typically hearing,” Hoffman added. “The vaccine’s on its way, we’re going to get there. We need to take care of our kids from now until that point.”

The other piece, he pointed out, is that parents and kids will always have the option to opt out.

“So where’s that balance at? I know our state leadership struggling with that,” Hoffman said. “Honestly, I’m glad I’m not in that position because there’s [not] … solid of years of study to make that decision. So I know the difficulty, I understand the complexity. We’re just saying, hey, please utilize the social emotional aspect as part of the general health of our students.”

“Athletics and activities are part of that education based system,” he added.

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Hoffman also thinks people need to recognize that students are stepping up.

“What we’re hearing and seeing from other states, and from within our state where they’re doing in person learning in a few schools, is that the students are holding themselves to such a high level of accountability because they want to play so bad,” Hoffman said. “They’re going to be part of the solution.”

Listen to the Dori Monson Show weekday afternoons from noon – 3 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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