EHS vs EVHS_36

Ellensburg High School’s bench reacts to Dylan Philip (3) making a free throw against East Valley (Yakima) High School to tie the score at 54-54 in the final minute of the game during the WIAA Hardwood Classic at Yakima Valley SunDome last March.

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It’s been echoed by many student-athletes, parents, fans, and now the Washington State Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA).

They’ve all been patient.

It’s time to play high school sports again.

“Coaches and athletic directors, along with those of us at the WIAA, have long championed the value of education-based athletics and activities,” WIAA executive director Mike Hoffman said in a press release on Thursday. “Everyone has heard how competition can build character, teach discipline and life lessons, and connect students with peers and their communities. These are more than just talking points or coach-speak because now, in the absence of these extracurricular activities, it has never been more clear how much they are needed.”

While the novel coronavirus has shown its ravage, taking over 250,000 lives in the United States alone, the WIAA has been following Gov. Jay Inslee’s strict guidelines to curtail the effect on Washingtonians. And after recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, Inslee mandated a four-week shut down earlier this week, which shuttered indoor sports practices during the WIAA’s allowable coaching period.

With no clear vision, the WIAA once again altered its playing schedule, delaying Season 2 sports (basketball, bowling, gymnastics, swim and dive and wrestling) to Feb. 1 while shrinking the playing seasons to seven weeks.

Now that indoor sports cannot practice, even in small pods, it’s going to be a tough transition into the Feb. 1 date especially if the mandate is pushed beyond the four weeks.

“Our hope is that Dec. 14 (end of four weeks) we can back off a little bit, but the real message that needs to be communicated from our standpoint is the more we can distance and mask and drive these numbers down the more chance we have to compete down the road,” Ellensburg High School athletic director Cole Kanyer said on the Kittitas Valley Sports Talk podcast Thursday. “If we can drive the numbers down, regardless if you believe it or not, we’ll have an opportunity to probably fire those things back up. If we don’t drive those numbers down, you’re right, for the foreseeable future we will not be having indoor sports or practices.”

IMPACT ON STUDENT-ATHLETES

What’s been echoed is the impact of having no athletics is on the student-athletes. According to a University of Wisconsin study in July, approximately 68% of 3,243 student-athletes surveyed, which included Washington students, reported feelings of anxiety and depression at levels that would typically require medical intervention. That was a 37% increase from pre-pandemic levels.

Also from the Wisconsin study is in a sample of 30,000 student-athletes, only 271 COVID-19 cases were reported and 0.5% of those cases traced back to sports contact.

The Seattle United Soccer Club, which had 1,930 participants in the summer for two months of training, only two of those players contracted the virus and both of those came from community transmission, outside of sport. But not to forget is social distance measures were in effect for the soccer club. Coaches wore masks at all times while players were asked to wear masks when they arrive and when they leave (some opted to wear it the entirety of practice). Players were also placed in small cohorts and to not touch a teammates’ soccer ball.

“These examples of students returning to sports are not meant to diminish the havoc and loss that this virus has caused,” Hoffman said. “They are meant to show that if we work together and take the proper precautions, we can return to offering these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. We know this because it has already been done. These are challenging times, absolutely, but there is no hiding from this pandemic.”

“We have heard of and seen some first-hand statistics on a number of things, whether that’s grades, whether that’s physical activity and injury and mental, emotional and social health, you bet we’ve seen it,” Kanyer said.

Kanyer believes the best place for kids is school house buildings. And concerning activities, it’s truly beneficial for their grades, social and emotional health, teamwork skills and personal development. Even in the hybrid academic setting and the allowable coaching period, it was a “breath of fresh air” for students.

“In terms of student-to-student scenario, I do believe them being back in school is more beneficial,” Kanyer said. “It’s a higher risk to have them suffering from mental, emotional and social stressors and depression and anxiety and potentially suicidal thoughts than it is to have them potentially exposed to this virus.

“Again, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a medical professional, nobody should take medical advice from me. I rely solely on my doctor and Dr. Larson to give me advice on this. But the safety precautions we have at Ellensburg High School I feel like are solid. We have a bunch of great coaches who want nothing more than to see their kids succeed in their sport and are willing to do what it takes to ensure that.

“The possibility for COVID exposure and school is real, but our safety measures to mitigate that chance of injection, I think, are strong. The health and safety of students are absolutely paramount, but I think our protection measures combat that risk a lot more than any kind of strategies we have to combat the risk for mental, emotional, and social unwellness when kids are out at home and don’t have competitive events to participate.”

Now it’s a waiting game to see how the government’s office responds to the WIAA in returning high school sports to the state of Washington.

Luke Olson: lolson@kvnews.com; on Twitter: @lukeolsonb

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