Oak Harbor girls softball team members are allowed to workout together under current COVID-19 restrictions, but are not yet allowed to return to formal practices and competition. School sports may resume this month if Island County and others in the North region can move into Phase 2. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor girls softball team members are allowed to workout together under current COVID-19 restrictions, but are not yet allowed to return to formal practices and competition. School sports may resume this month if Island County and others in the North region can move into Phase 2. Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times

Athletic directors ‘cautiously optimistic’ for return of sports

School sports may be starting this month for Island County athletes if COVID-19 conditions are met.

The phrase “cautiously optimistic” came up again and again in conversations with the the island’s three school district athletic directors on whether they thought school sports would be restarting soon.

The Washington Inter-scholastic Athletic Association released new guidelines for sports seasons after Season 1 was canceled this fall because of rising COVID-19 numbers.

Under new guidance, sports traditionally played in the fall were moved to winter, and the remaining sports seasons were trimmed to accommodate the change.

Some student athletes in the state have been allowed to begin the season already, but not the ones in Island County.

Play is contingent on counties being in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan.

Island County is still in Phase 1 along with neighboring Whatcom, San Juan and Skagit counties that make up the North Region.

The only two regions in Phase 2 as of Feb. 1 are those in the Puget Sound (Snohomish, King and Pierce counties) and West regions (Grays Harbor, Lewis, Pacific and Thurston counties).

The WIAA ranked sports as high, moderate or low risk depending on the probability of spreading COVID-19.

The WIAA sports season calendar has cross country, football, slowpitch softball, soccer (girls, 1B/2B boys), girls swim and dive and volleyball as Feb. 1 – March 21 for Season 1.

The sports are low and moderate risk, expect for football, which is noted as high risk.

Season 2 is set for March 15 – May 2. Baseball, fastpitch softball, golf, soccer (1A-4A boys), tennis and track and field are in Season 2.

The sports are ranked as low and moderate risk.

The sports in Season 3 are mostly ranked as high-risk sports — basketball, cheerleading, dance/drill and wrestling — and are scheduled for April 26 -June 13.

Bowling, gymnastics and boys swim and dive would also be played during this season.

The WIAA set the schedule, but gave the leagues the flexibility to move activities around based on where they are in the reopening phases.

“The WIAA realizes every league is going to be different,” said Coupeville Athletic Director Willie Smith.

Coupeville and the other athletic directors in the Northwest 1B/2B league voted to begin sports on Feb. 22 as long as safety conditions are met.

The league also moved some of the sports around from WIAA guidelines.

Traditional spring sports such as baseball, fastpitch softball, track and girls tennis would start first and run Feb. 22 – April 3, according to Smith.

Next, fall sports like football, volleyball, cross country, soccer (girls and boys) and boys tennis would begin March 29. Winter sports such as basketball would be last and begin May 3. Seasons are six weeks long, he said.

Smith said keeping spring sports close to their traditional season made more sense to him and he hoped it would give students the chance to play who had their seasons canceled last year.

“We understand what you guys missed (last spring), plus, they’re outdoor sports anyway,” Smith said.

Oak Harbor and South Whidbey school districts would follow the WIAA’s calendar more closely.

All three athletic directors said they hope athletes will be able to return to play soon, but that being grouped with other counties awaiting approval to reopen is frustrating.

Cases have been increasing quickly since the end of December, according to Whatcom County Health Department.

Whatcom County had a rate of 449 newly diagnosed confirmed and probable cases per 100,000 population during the previous two-week period, according to state Department of Health data as of Jan. 31.

For comparison, Island County had a rate of 126 newly diagnosed confirmed and probable cases per 100,000 population for the same time period.

“I think it is critical that we get our athletes back,” Oak Harbor Athletic Director Jerrod Fleury said in an email.

“Athletics offers so much more than just playing a sport or a game.”

South Whidbey Athletic Director Paul Lagerstedt said he would look for other opportunities for his athletes to play if the delay continues.

“If our league can’t go (forward) I’m going to look to find other opportunities, if possible, for our kids to play,” Lagerstedt said. “It doesn’t have to be a league.

“We would just want to play somebody.”