If all of the pieces fall into place, Toppenish High School athletes could be competing against other schools in their league as soon as Feb. 15.
The South Central Athletic Conference’s target date for interscholastic competition may or may not be reached, given the stubbornly high COVID-19 infection rates in Washington’s south-central region (still averaging more than 120 per day as of Jan. 25).
But even if the Wildcat football, volleyball, girls soccer, girls swimming and cross country teams have to wait a little longer to face the likes of Wapato, Zillah and Granger, it’s looking like there will be a “fall sports” season of some kind in February and March.
“We all realize it may be just a season of practicing, but at least we can provide some kind of competition for the kids this year,” Toppenish Athletic Director Brett Stauffer said. “The key for me and the coaches is to get them back to doing the things they love, but doing those things safely. I’ve said all along that I think they are safer with us and in a structured environment.”
Stauffer is working with other SCAC ADs on schedules that would provide up to six games for football, 10 games each for volleyball and girls soccer, and an undetermined number of cross country and swim meets. The league’s eight Yakima Valley schools agreed to stage only intra-conference competitions due to safety concerns and scheduling logistics.
“That way, we won’t leave a team from another league high and dry in case there’s a cancellation,” Stauffer said. “Hopefully, we can get through a shortened season and hold a district championship for each sport in March, before spring sports start.”
Stauffer said each of the school’s athletic programs has been practicing in some capacity this month, including winter and spring sports teams. The WIAA has permitted teams from all three seasons to compete until Feb. 8, when schools statewide will shift entirely to fall sports.
As things currently stand, each season will be about six weeks long, instead of the typical 10 weeks. The WIAA has limited the required number of practices to five instead of 10, although football players must still have 10 practices due to the sport’s heightened safety risks.
Spring sports, such as baseball, softball and track and field, will be the focus from late March until early May; winter sports, such as basketball and wrestling, will run from early May until late June. The WIAA will not stage any state championship events this year, but a series of district tournaments are expected.
“We’re hoping that the numbers start dropping so we can get in some actual competitions,” Stauffer said, noting that cross country — along with tennis and golf — is considered a “low-risk” sport and is eligible to compete in phase one of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery plan (if runners agreed to wear face coverings).
Depending on where the infection rate stands by mid-February, girls soccer and volleyball matches against SCAC opponents could begin the week of Feb. 15. Football games won’t start until Feb. 18, at the earliest, due to the minimum practice requirement.
Stauffer said he and the league’s other ADs are looking at scheduling three football games over the final two weeks of the season so teams can play six games instead of five.
“We just want the kids to have a chance to play some games — and hopefully, some of those games will have meaning,” he said.