It’s obvious the decision the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association made Tuesday to compress its high school sports schedule from its normal three-month, three-season approach to a condensed, two-month, four-season affair could create some anomalies for the 2020-21 school year.
The biggest move was the choice to shift most of the moderate- to high-risk fall sports — such as football and volleyball — to Season 3, or in this case the time frame of March 1-May 4. It left the low-risk sports — namely cross country — in the typical fall time frame.
This was done to hopefully lessen the risks of student-athletes getting the coronavirus, whose cases have been sharply increasing throughout the country in general, but in this area of the country in particular.
However, what the WIAA and its executive board have done is set up some possible unprecedented scenerios that haven’t taken place for a long time.
Keep in mind, everything having to do with high school sports only can be written in pencil at this point. The pandemic certainly knows no boundaries and this recent surge could continue, dissipate, or rage.
For instance, the possibility exists of someone becoming the first four-sport star athlete in the state in many years. Conceivably, an athlete could compete in cross country in Season 1, take part in bowling in Season 2, play football in Season 3, then be a pitcher on the baseball team in Season 4.
It’s something WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman was salivating about during a videoconference call with the media.
“I am hoping we’ll have some four-sport athletes if we can institute the initial plan,” said Hoffman, who has just completed his first year in charge of the group. “We’re adding a season, and even though they’re shorter, we’re offering more. It would be pretty cool.”
Executive board president Greg Whitmore, the athletic director at Lind-Ritzville/Sprague, was a little more cautious in his approach but said it’s certainly possible.
“One of our goals is to not force athletes to choose between two of the sports we offer,” Whitmore said. “But we know there is going to be some overlap, and that’s why we know we’re going to have to be flexible, both at our level, and probably districts, to allow a student-athlete to (play) both sports at the same time. How that would work? It’s not easy to go to football practice and then go out and do some track practicing. So, it’s not going to be a perfect world.
“We know that we may get to that point when a student-athlete has to choose, whether it’s their No. 1 sport. We hope to not get to that point. But we know the overlap will cause that, and that’s why we’ll have to be flexible with our rules to allow that to happen. We want kids to be able to participate in every sport that they want to, if it can humanly be done.”
Another scenario that’s possible is a nontraditional state tournament. In essence, because of travel issues related to COVID-19, there could be the possibility each region crowns a champion, then because of the pandemic, not just one state champion could be crowned, but there could be several champions crowned.
“Part of the initial conversation has been that maybe we have more regionalized or more sectionalized championships, to allow more teams to play,” Hoffman said. “And if this is a year where we give out five state volleyball or six state volleyball (Class 4A) championships, then so be it.”
There obviously are some questions the organization must work out. Whether or not fans will be allowed to attend events, if they take place. Whether or not an athlete can move from one state, say to Idaho, to play football in the fall and move back to Washington to play in Season 3, or what middle school sports will look like. The board is meeting again next Tuesday and will be meeting consistently throughout the rest of the summer and the fall to address all those issues. Also, officiating could become an issue. About 30 percent of officials who were polled recently by the Washington Officials Association said they were uncomfortable with working a game.
Overall, what the WIAA might have done could change the face of what high school sports could look like in the near future.
It’s a great plan. But the pandemic might have other ideas.
Donn Walden may be reached at (208) 848-2258, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @waldo9939.