Practices are a full go for cross country and girls swimming this week. Competition will start for both sports next week as they are considered low-risk. Moderate and high-risk sports like volleyball, girls soccer and football will have modified practices until the county advances to Phase 2. However, unlike as seen here, face masks will now be required of all participants.  (File photo)

Cross country, swim practices have started; soccer, football and volleyball more tentative 

WHATCOM ­— To the extent possible, Mike Mc-Kee talked about how high school sports may look starting up this month.

McKee, the Lynden School District athletic director, spoke to the Lynden School Board on Thursday, Jan. 28, meeting remotely. He also gave a phone interview.

He said there are “a lot of moving targets” in the picture for the Northwest Conference, in which 10 Whatcom County high schools participate. Mc-Kee is also president of the Northwest Conference.

Cross country and swimming practices started this week. Both are classified as low-risk sports and so are able to go in full in Phase 1. McKee expected the schedule of competition between schools  for cross country and swim to be out later this week.

“Both of those are going to have five days of practice and they’ll be up and going the week of [Feb. 8] and competing in some format,” McKee said. 

By dictate of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, sports are rated as high, medium or low risk, and how they are rated determines how they may be conducted. Add in the factor of whether they are held indoor or outdoor.

For the remaining moderate-risk soccer and volleyball and high-risk football, the hope is the county will advance to Phase 2 next week Friday, Feb. 12. If not, the conference has plans in place to adjust the schedule.

“We’ve got a plan to start playing that next week for soccer and volleyball and that next Saturday, the 20th, for football,” McKee said. “If they come back and say we’re still in Phase 1 we’re going to bump back to March 1 where we have a whole new schedule set up. We’ll go five weeks for fall, six for spring and five for winter.”

Some football practice has happened in pods of six or fewer players.

The conference has contingency plans in place all the way through March 1, McKee said, if the remaining fall sports can’t get started by the middle of February. 

“If we don’t get started on the 15th, we’ll start on March 1 and modify from what we are now to a fall 5-week season, spring six weeks and winter, if we’re able to, a 5-week season,” he said. 

Whatcom County — as part of the North Region of Gov. Inslee’s “Healthy Washington Roadmap to Recovery” plan — stayed in Phase 1 last week, meaning at the lowest level of allowance of sports activity. (And that scenario was complicated by the news that any reset, and chance to advance, will now happen every other Friday instead of every Friday.)

Spectators are not mentioned in state WIAA guidelines until sports get to Phase 2 and are conducted outdoors, and then as part of a total maximum of 200 people including all student participants and coaches.

For instance, there will not be room for parents, cheerleaders and likely some players to away football games, Mc-Kee said. However, there may be some ability to livestream events, especially indoor ones, he added.

“We’re excited that’s going to be an option assuming things go smoothly,” he said.

Having fall sports in the winter is also bringing other challenges in the form of having enough daylight for competition for outdoor sports.

McKee gave the example of having to move soccer game start times up an hour, from 4 p.m. to 3 p.m., but that also creates conflicts with what time schools end for the day and letting students out early. The conference has explored ways to work around that. 

“It might be where Lynden goes to play Sehome at Sehome, but it’s our home game,” McKee said. “For that game, our parents could travel because it’s a home game, but the only way we could get the game in is to play on turf under the lights.”

Classified as low-risk in Season 1, traditional fall sports, are: cross country, boys tennis and girls swim; moderate-risk, girls soccer and volleyball; high-risk, football.

McKee said that the basic forms of protection in the COVID-19 pandemic will be followed for sports practices and events: temperature screening, mask-wearing, social distancing, contact tracing information.

“Every single sport requires them to mask up,” McKee told the Lynden board. “It’s not sports as we know it.”

Analyzing how that will work, he suggested that wearing a mask for cross country running could be tough if rainwater clogged up the breathing through a mask. But it is the requirement, he confirmed this week.

The specific plan for the Northwest Conference shows a Season 1 of 5-7 weeks, depending on when it actually starts by sport in February. There will be no culminating events, just the number of regular games that can be arranged.