WIAA releases virus-related guidelines for teams, athletes

Pullman defensive end Rian Colon Fee (17) sacks West Valley quarterback Henry Stevens (2) as the Greyhounds rolled over the visiting Knights in a game Oct. 18 at Pullman High.

Some of the most time-honored rituals of sport, including the postgame handshake, are being discouraged for high school athletes in Washington as officials mull the resumption of activities in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Even pregame and postgame fist bumps should be avoided, according to guidelines released Monday by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association in anticipation of the fall prep sports season.

The 13-page document also encourages schools to limit travel by sports teams, particularly long trips by bus or van. Where possible, athletes should travel individually or with family members.

As for cloth face coverings during practices and games, students “should be encouraged” to wear them, according to the document, while coaches and officials “must” do so at all times.

The document is meant to provide a coronavirus game plan for coaches and officials, as opposed to a specific time line on the return of high school sports.

“I find it incredibly difficult to make a lot of plans right now with just everything changing so rapidly from day to day,” Pullman High football coach David Cofer said after reading the guidelines. “We’re looking at the season now as kind of an unknown. ... We’re trying to make the most of the opportunities that we’re given.”

The guidelines were established in conjunction with the National Federation of State High School Associations, along with Sports Medicine Advisory Committees, according to the WIAA.

All three organizations “believe it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of high school students across the nation to return to physical activity and athletic competition,” the document says.

But irregularities and surprises in the scheduling of these activities should be expected.

“Due to the near certainty of recurrent outbreaks this coming year in some locales,” the document reads, “we must be prepared for periodic school closures and the possibility of some teams having to isolate or quarantine for two or three weeks while in-season, possibly multiple times.”

As usual, a school’s athletic practices and contests will be disallowed on days when classes have been canceled.

“It’s encouraging to see that the state has kind of classified high school athletics as an essential practice,” Cofer said. “Obviously speaking with bias because I’m coaching, but I really do think that athletics are a really important part of the overall education experience, especially when it’s done right.

“It would be really unfortunate if somehow we couldn’t come back (to sports) and at least do something. Obviously, I trust the people in charge and trust they’ll make a calculated decision. I just really hope for the kids’ sake that we’re able to make this thing work.”

Some of the guidelines are specific to the phases of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s four-phase reopening plan, which varies by county. In Phase 2, for example, teams are encouraged to avoid locker rooms, requiring athletes to arrive at practice in the proper gear. Individuals may work with balls but are discouraged from passing them to others.

Workouts during that phase should be conducted in pods of five or fewer athletes, with the groupings remaining the same for each workout. In Phase 3, the pods may include as many as 10 athletes, according the guidelines.

Asotin County and Whitman County are both in Phase 3. But, as Cofer noted, “there’s still a lot up in the air since Pullman relies heavily on Spokane County and the west side for scheduling.” That’s true of Clarkston as well.

In all four phases, coaches and athletes should be screened for symptoms before every workout, and the results of these screenings should be recorded and stored, the document says.

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