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WIAA director: Return of school sports ‘frustrating’ at times, but must play by state rules

A chain crew team member holds a marker during the South Carolina High School League Class AAA football championship game at Spring Valley High School on Dec. 5, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Kids are now allowed to resume some school sports in Washington under fairly strict COVID-19 restrictions. Mick Hoffman, executive director of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show that while the state and local schools are being very cautious, it’s nice to have kids back on the field after nearly a year away.

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Football is one of the school sports that’s been allowed to resume, but five games were canceled in the South Sound last weekend after a potential COVID-19 exposure.

“My understanding is either somebody had tested positive within their team or somebody was around somebody who had tested positive, could be a family member or what have you,” Hoffman said. “And if they are not able to do a solid contact tracing to know who was possibly exposed, then they just shut it down.”

“The schools are being really conservative with it to make sure to err on the side of caution at this point as we start to roll out the season,” he added.

Canceling games, even if it was potentially just one exposed student, is part of the guidelines that the WIAA is operating under. Hoffman says if they’re going to play, those are the rules they have to play under, coming from the state. He adds that the state has been cautious, as have the schools, but he recognizes that it’s sometimes “been incredibly frustrating for all of us.”

Other parents have emailed Dori to share that they’re not allowed in the stadium to watch their kids’ games due to capacity limits, even though the stadiums are outdoors. One local mom of a senior said she and other parents set up chairs on the sidewalk and watch the soccer games through a peekaboo view.

Hoffman assured Dori that the WIAA has been pushing back against the state rules, including the spectator limits, so much so that they have a weekly meeting now to address these topics.

“What we were told this last Friday is the state is reviewing the spectators,” he said. “Now one thing for clarity: The state is saying 25% of fire code or 200 total people, whatever is less.”

It’s then up the school to decide who they allow into the stadium of that 200, Hoffman explained, and that number includes participants, game personnel, and spectators.

“In some cases, schools just don’t have the ability to manage,” he said. “I will tell you, we are dealing with issues with parents at games right now where they are being allowed, a few of them where they refuse to wear masks. And so the game personnel are having to deal with that, confrontations.”

“… But as far as do we push back on the state? Yeah, absolutely,” Hoffman added. “When they make decisions that don’t make sense, we’re not going to defend them. We’re just going to explain them, and keep pushing for change.”

Hoffman said that to the state’s credit, officials are reviewing the spectator limitations and the possibility for a limited return of more high-risk indoor sports — like wrestling, cheer, and basketball.

“So we’re getting some progress,” he said. “They switched their masking policy on gymnastics and cross country after a few conversations,” giving an example of some movement.

The rules, including the 200 number, not only apply to high school sports, but also community sports, collegiate, and the professional level, Hoffman explained.

“So they’re really, really cautious with it,” he said. “And, in the meantime, we’re explaining we have seniors playing right now that have three or four games left to where their parents can come watch, and so that’s a big one for us. We’re gaining some traction, we’re not there yet. And I’m just hoping we get there for parents.”

“I will tell you this, though, 2-3 months ago, all we heard from parents was, ‘just let our kids play. That’s all we care about. Just let the kids get on the field.'”

Now that kids are on the field, the parents are saying “let us in the stadium,” Hoffman said.

“We get that,” he said, calling it “human nature.”

But he also says it’s a sign of progress.

“Because now we’re dealing with our traditional issues,” he said. “But, yeah, as a parent, that would be heartbreaking to not be able to watch your child play, especially in his or her senior year.”

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In terms of a return to sports in places where there won’t be a return to in-person learning, Hoffman says it’s ultimately up to each school district to decide.

“For us, with athletics and activities, there’s far less logistics,” he said. “To open up for in person-learning, you have a K-12 system. So especially those younger students, if their parents are anticipating them being back, and parents are starting to return to their places of work, then all the sudden that gets cancelled and they’ve got to come up with daycare.”

“With an athletic team, especially at the high school level, which is primarily what we’re talking about, those kids are old enough to be self-sufficient for the most part, right? And the other piece is you just call and cancel practice, and that’s the end of it,” he added. “You’re not dealing with bus drivers and everything else.”

At this point, Hoffman says the WIAA is focusing on the opportunity to play.

“But the in-person learning is far more complicated than sports,” Hoffman said.

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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