Liberty Bell won’t compete this fall
High school football in March?
That’s just one of the considerations for the Methow Valley School District as students return to school, one way or another, for what is also the 2020-21 athletic competition year.
The Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA), which oversees high school sports in the state, has been laboring for the past several months to come up with plans for prep competition including the adoption of coronavirus countermeasures.
The WIAA has made frequent adjustments to its plans, which include designated pre-season practice times, seven-week competitive seasons, and complicated, sport-by-sport procedures for COVID compliance. The WIAA also identified “higher risk” (such as football and wrestling), “moderate risk” (such as basketball and soccer) and “lower risk” (such as running and golf) sports to establish its protocols.
One thing is already decided, according to Michael Wilbur, Liberty Bell High School’s activities and athletics director: The Mountain Lions will not compete in any sport this fall.
Ordinarily, four varsity (and some junior varsity) teams would be competing in the fall: football, boys’ and girls’ cross country, girls’ soccer and volleyball. All of those sports have now been placed in what WIAA is calling “Season 3” on the 2010-21 sports calendar.
The WIAA’s most recently posted matrix delineates four “seasons” for prep sports, starting with season 1 from Sept. 7 through Oct. 31. Under that scenario, cross country and tennis teams could compete in season 1 as “alternate” sports, at the school district’s discretion.
Liberty Bell earlier contemplated competing in tennis and cross country, but those plans changed with the WIAA’s seasonal adjustments.
Not this fall
“Like the rest of the teams in our league, we won’t be playing any interscholastic sports this fall,” Wilbur said, referring to other class 2B schools in north-central Washington that Liberty Bell typically competes against.
In any event, competition would not be allowed unless a district is in Phase III of the state’s recovery plan, and Okanogan County is currently in Phase II.
“Tennis has been moved to season 4 [April 26 through the end of the school year] and cross country to season 3 [March 1 through May 1],” Wilbur said.
WIAA ‘seasons,’ 2020-21
• Season 1, Sept. 7-Oct. 31: cross country (alternate), slow pitch softball (alternate), golf (alternate), tennis (alternate).
• Season 2, Dec. 28-Feb. 27, 2021: boys’ and girls’ basketball, bowling, boys’ swimming and diving, gymnastics, boys’ and girls’ wrestling.
• Season 3, March 1-May 1: Volleyball, boys’ and girls’ 1B/2B soccer, football, girls’ swim and dive, cross country, slow pitch softball, cheerleading, golf (alternate), tennis (alternate).
• Season 4, April 26-June 26: tennis, fast pitch softball, track and field, baseball, golf, 1A-4A boys’ soccer; dance/drill.
Source: WIAA website, https://www.wiaa.com/subcontent.aspx?SecID=1240
WIAA’s season 2 (Dec. 28 through Feb. 27, 2021) currently includes boys’ and girls’ basketball, and boys’ and girls’ wrestling — both traditionally winter sports. But WIAA guidelines require the district to be in Phase IV of the state recovery plan for both basketball and wrestling competition.
WIAA’s season 4 currently includes tennis, track and field, baseball and softball. Competition is only allowed under Phase III recovery.
Season 3 (March 1-May 1) is crowded into the spring months, and currently includes boys’ and girls’ soccer, volleyball, cross country, tennis as an alternate — and football.
In early March, Liberty Bell’s athletic fields may still be covered in snow. In fact, the traditional spring sports — baseball, softball, track and field, tennis and boys’ soccer — usually don’t have any home games or meets until the end of March.
While March football might not be a problem for schools in other parts of the state, for north central Washington it will be a challenge — particularly since football practices can begin in mid-February, when winter sports would ordinarily be wrapping up and winter is still in residence. Practices can only take place under Phase III, and competition under Phase IV.
Competition in volleyball, cross country and tennis could only take place under Phase III.
There will be no competition between Nov. 2 and Dec. 27.
The realigned seasons may force some athletes to make choices among sports that don’t typically overlap.
Wilbur and Methow Valley School District Supt. Tom Venable both said the district will make efforts to get students outside and active.
“We’re offering additional clubs and other activities to give students a chance to stay active and safely connected to their peers,” Wilbur said.
Wilbur noted that the WIAA has also extended the out-of-season coaching window from Sept. 28 through Nov. 30. Coaches must follow the WIAA’s guidelines for coronavirus compliance during those workouts.
About those: WIAA guidelines for football practice go on for four pages, with different procedures depending on which recovery phase the county is in.
For instance, under Phase II, locker rooms cannot be used and athletes must show in their workout gear, then return home and shower immediately after the workout; workouts should be conducted in “pods” of students with the same students always working out together; and there must be a minimum distance of 6 feet between each individual at all times. There are also guidelines for how footballs should be handled.
WIAA guidelines for cross country include that runners should maintain 6 feet of distancing should not share equipment, and wear masks before and after practice (but not while running).
Liberty Bell cross country coach Erik Brooks conducted practices with his boys’ and girls’ teams, under coronavirus protocols, earlier this summer, running a couple of times a week (early in the day to avoid heat).
In an email this week, Brooks said he plans to offer two to three days of a week of team activities in the extended coaching window, including Tuesday and Thursday workouts and a Saturday time trial race.
“We hope that kids will run some extra on another two or three days per week, but much like summer it’s basically volunteer time for coaches and we’ll hope to get as many kids to turn out as we can to keep them motivated,” Brooks said.