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Principal pushes to extend opportunity to play sports ‘to all of our kids’ in WA

Daniel High School cheerleaders watch their team during the South Carolina High School League Class AAA football championship game against Camden at Spring Valley High School on Dec. 5, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Seven counties in Washington have moved into Phase 2, but there are many counties still in Phase 1. Jaime Nelson is the principal of Odessa High School in Lincoln County, which remains in Phase 1, and she’s frustrated that students in some parts of the state can return to sports while others cannot.

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Nelson told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show that she wants student-athletes across the state to be given the same opportunities.

“I don’t want to take anything away from kids in Snohomish County, or King County, or Pierce County. I am happy that they get that opportunity,” Nelson said. “But we need to provide that opportunity to all of our kids in Washington.”

Principal Nelson recognizes that when schools closed last March, it wasn’t clear what COVID-19 was going to do, and remote learning seemed like the safer route. A year later, she says forcing kids to stay home, isolating them from friends and peers, and sitting in front of a computer all day has been dangerous for students.

“We’ve taken away their hobbies and their extracurricular activities,” she said. “We’ve kept them physically sedentary by closing down all sports weight rooms, gyms, and activity centers. And then we’re constantly changing the return to normal date. I mean, these kids have nothing to look forward to, and it’s been almost a year.”

Lincoln County is part of the East region in the governor’s reopening plan. Gov. Inslee recently changed the criteria for regions moving to the next reopening phase, but the East region has not yet met three out of the four required health metrics that are needed to move to Phase 2.

Nelson says she sent a letter to the governor and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal asking them to address this issue. She says in a response from Reykdal, he agreed on “all things athletics being open for youth.”

“He’s on our side,” she added.

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Per the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, low-risk sports can be played outdoors in Phase 1, which includes cross country, golf, gymnastics, tennis, track and field, sideline or no contact dance and cheerleading, and swimming and diving. Facial coverings are required at all times for both Phase 1 and Phase 2.

Low-risk sports, when conducted outdoors, are allowed to have competitions (but no tournaments) in both phases, but no spectators are allowed under Phase 1. Moderate risk sports, including baseball, soccer, softball, and volleyball, when conducted outdoors, are allowed to practice in Phase 1 and compete in Phase 2. High risk sports — basketball, football, wresting, cheerleading and dance with contact — may practice in groups of six outdoors in Phase 1.

Find a full chart from the WIAA on what’s allowed in each phase and at each risk level, as well as the answers to frequently asked questions online here.

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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