Creative new activities get kids outdoors and engaged
On a typical early autumn Friday afternoon stroll around the Liberty Bell High School campus, one would be likely to see and hear the clash of young gridders preparing for the fall traditions of Friday night football.
The cross country team would be going through a light workout and a noisy game of ultimate Frisbee before an early Saturday departure to another large meet in a distant part of the state.
The soccer girls would be gathered on the practice field, breaking down Thursday night’s match and running through practice for a Saturday match.
Inside, the rhythmic chants of cheer squad practice would provide background noise while a Booster Club member pushed a squeaky cart of concession goods down the hall, and the steady thump of multiple volleyballs escaped the confines of gym walls.
The visiting football team’s bus would rumble to a stop, letting off coaches and players to stretch their legs and walk around the field before heading into the locker room for dressing and warm-ups in preparation for their encounter under the lights against the Mountain Lions.
But that familiar cacophony of high school sports teams getting ready for competition is missing this year, thanks to precautions necessary to counteract the coronavirus.
With the COVID-19 pandemic’s restrictions precluding the 2020 Washington fall high school sports season, the Methow Valley School District has developed some creative alternatives to engage students in activities that reach out to multiple interests, athletically and academically.
The girls’ soccer team is practicing, but it’s more of a co-ed situation with some of the spring season boys’ soccer members taking part in the workouts, supervised by first-year girls’ head coach Katie Overbeck.
The cross country runners are also working out under an extended out-of-season practice schedule approved by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) that runs through Nov. 30. That extended practice period also finds the Liberty Bell baseball team out on the diamond daily, going through drills, batting practice and scrimmages.
WIAA plans, tentatively, to open interscholastic competition shortly after Christmas with the advent of winter sports, in a somewhat shortened format from early January through February.
Fall sports like soccer, volleyball and cross country look to run March 1-May 1, and the typical spring sports will go April 26-June 26. That is all subject to how the state progresses in its phased Safe Start program and the WIAA protocols for restarting its programmed activities.
However, the students are not without options.
A series of new activities have been initiated by Liberty Bell Activities Director Michael Wilbur. Now that Friday afternoon tour of the campus includes watching some of the activities of the Mountain Lion Club — including “Old School Strength and Conditioning,” “Disc Golf,” “Writing Fiction,” “Audio/Visual Production,” “Archery” and “Olympic Weightlifting.” All are new to campus, and cater to the varied interests of students athletically and intellectually.
The idea for club activities may have come to fruition during the pandemic this fall, but Wilbur says he has been thinking about it “for a while before this year,” as a way to engage more students in campus and extracurricular opportunities.
While interscholastic athletics have been very popular at Liberty Bell, a significant number of students don’t do team sports. When asked about how fall programs have worked, Wilbur beamed as he reported “over 100 of the district’s grade 7-12 students are participating” in either established sports activities or one of the new clubs.
Currently, all activities are outside as Wilbur works on plans for when the weather turns toward winter. The hope is to keep the club concept active through the 2020-21 school year, and beyond.
The clubs have incorporated several community members as coaches (aka instructors). According to Wilbur, each coach receives a small stipend, mostly as a reimbursement for their costs. Claire Painter is the conditioning coach, Will Long has created the Fiction Writing sessions, Phil Quevillion was seen setting up the Disc Golf course recently, Hanz Scholz is coaching the Mountain Bike sessions, local musician and Renaissance man Terry Hunt has the Audio-Visual Production Club and 2014 Liberty Bell grad Liam Daily is the lead for Archery.
Daily and Wilbur had spoken back in 2019 regarding Daily’s experience at a summer camp near Lake Wenatchee, teaching archery. That experience included training and a certification that requires a certain number of hours annually to maintain. Wilbur’s response, according to Daily, was “that sounds like a good idea for spring 2020.”
While everything was upended last spring with the complete shutdown of the school district, Wilbur asked Daily if he was still interested once the plan for this fall was being formulated. Wilbur presented his plan for the Mountain Lion Club to district Supt. Tom Venable and the school board, gaining their enthusiastic approval.
There are a dozen or so kids who participate in archery, mostly regularly, every Monday and Friday. Three participants, Kylie, Jamison and Bella, really enjoy the activity. None of them had any ambition to participate in fall sports. “I don’t generally do sports,” Kylie said. “I did archery when I was little, so it’s nice to do this again.”
Venable affirmed that these are the target students for the new program at the junior-senior high school level. He said that “many bright spots have emerged from the program that engages students through participation in activities” and “connects them with community volunteers. [These programs] all part of the district’s strategic vision.”
Venable credits the Public School Funding Alliance with supporting both the Cub Club at the elementary school and the Mountain Lion Club, as well as the willingness of the local adult community volunteers to step up and facilitate the activities on both campuses. The PSFA is funding stipends for the activity facilitators.
The students’ enthusiastic participation makes it worthwhile for the adults, and most of the activities were “initiated by student input,” Venable said.
The activities are set up to conform with COVID-19 safety in mind, and the students are following those protocols as appropriate. “I look out my office window and see the kids on the elementary playfield wearing masks and social distancing,” Venable said.
The sounds coming from the school campus this fall are definitely different, but students — in greater numbers — are still at the epicenter of the cacophony.