Sunday thoughts…..

Good Sunday morning. We have some news from yesterday that is worth discussing in commentary form this morning, so let’s get to it.

Student-athlete plan strong, but are they biting off too much?
The Student-Athletes of Washington, the group of high school athletes from around the state including Mount Si High School football player Cole Norah which has over the past couple of weeks fiercely advocated for a fall high school sports season in Washington, last night released their proposal for a high school sports restart as the state continues to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group has requested Governor Jay Inslee do the following:

-To treat high school fall sports similar to the protocols implemented under the state’s COVID-19 response with provisions for both phase two and phase three counties

-Issue guidance to school districts clarifying that edicts regarding in-person and remote instruction are only recommendations and not mandates

-And to resume allowing counties to move forward in the phased restart of the state’s economy under the plan

So, let’s address each of these points separately and our thoughts.

1. Treating high school fall sports similar to that of pro and college sports: As you know, both the Mariners and Seahawks, along with the Sounders and University of Washington, have been allowed to practice and/or play contests in King County despite the county’s phase two status under the restart. To get this the teams had to get clearance from county and state officials and the high school kids are looking for the same. While this is a little different than the approach we have advocated here, we like what the athletes are seeking here.

2. Guidance to schools regarding remote learning: An area of concern for us about this proposal and request is here. Since the group’s inception, they have exclusively focused on bringing back fall high school sports and have stayed out of the conversation in other areas. This represents a bit of a change to that but it can be argued, and fairly we might add, that this does address their issue as well. Many districts – including all Kingco ones (Snoqualmie Valley) and Riverview – have adopted postures since the start of the pandemic and school clsoures in the spring that if districts aren’t in class with in-person learning, then no sports would be allowed. This remains the case now, a big reason why there is no fall sports statewide.

So what the athletes are seeking here is for the governor’s office and the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, to essentially tell districts that the edicts and guidance that had been issued this summer that helped influence districts to start will all-remote learning are just recommendations and that the districts could decide for themselves how to proceed. This we think is intended to perhaps cause some districts, under the weight of parental pressure, to allow some form of in-person instruction, thereby creating an avenue for sports to be available in those districts. There are two problems though with taking this approach, we believe:

-First, the guidance that was issued was influenced we think largely by the concerns of risk management advisors with the Washington State Risk Management Pool. Districts rely on their guidance to determine best practices to avoid liability, and if the pool were to continue to maintain their same position on in-person learning and relay that to districts individually, we do not expect most districts to change their posture. We have been told that there appears to be pressure here in the Snoqualmie Valley district to go to a hybrid learning model (some in-person, some remote), and we suspect that is the same elsewehere. But if risk management advisors continue to maintain their stance, we don’t expect districts to change their minds on this. As it is we expect at this point for districts to maintain a remote learning model through at least the holiday break, and maybe longer, because we suspect a vaccine will be needed before in-person learning can fully resume.

-Second, some of the issues that have been bumps in the road in Utah’s high school sports restart have been schools being forced from in-person learning to some form of remote instruction due to increased COVID-19 case counts at those schools. That is happening once again now. We have learned from our friends down at Draper’s Corner Canyon High School, which has been our primary Utah coverage point, that the school will be closed tomorrow as teachers and administrators figure out a modified learning model, the result of what the Deseret News reports was 21 confirmed cases of the virus over the past two weeks, mostly students. However, our source tells us that it’s mostly an issue of students having to be quarantined. Even so, the case spike as a result of in-person learning once again gives ammunition to those advocating to remain in a full-remote approach to instruction. As with sports, we support a return to in-person learning, but it needs to be done responsibly. The question is, can it be, and that’s what schools and districts all over Idaho, Utah and other states which have resumed in-person learning are dealing with. CCHS is expected to roll out their hybrid learning model on Tuesday and remain with it for at least this coming week, but likely longer depending on whether those case counts come back down.

While we again support where the student-athlete group is going here, we are concerned that this may be asking a bit much at this point, and involving themselves in what has become a contentious politically-charged conversation, something which this group we think wanted to stay away from.

3. Inslee resuming allowing counties to advance in restart phases: As you know if you’ve been following this, the governor earlier this summer placed a pause on counties advancing in the restart due to increased case counts statewide. With the numbers trending downward, and this also being a key element to further allow for fall high school sports, the student-athletes are again stepping out of their comfort zone to advocate for a broader change in the state’s restart policy. While this proposal, if the governor agrees to it, won’t immediately benefit counties such as King, Snohomish or Pierce, smaller counties in eastern Washington such as Stevens, Lincoln, Adams, Asotin, Ferry and Pend Oreille, rural counties which have had very low numbers of positive cases of the virus throughout this and continue to do so, would benefit the most, as most if not all of these counties likely are in position now to go to phase four status and in essence a full reopening which means sports and in-person instruction in those areas of the state.

We would like to see this change as well, but are again concerned that the students may be asking a bit much, especially as we believe the release of a vaccine – and the subsequent vaccination of a certain percentage of people – are likely what the governor and his team are waiting on before proceeding fully. The political discussion of the wisdom of that approach is best left for another day, but that’s what we think may be going on there.

Another area we find fault with the students is it seems as if especially over the past few days since their rally at the Capitol September 4, the group has taken on a very aggressive approach to their efforts. While we understand time is of the essence here – they would like to be on the field in 10 days on September 23 with a season starting October 16 – we do not like the idea of high school kids engaging in the kind of “my way or else” politics that we believe the tone of their efforts has taken as of late. Instead, we advocate here for the group to slow down a bit and involve many additional youth sports stakeholders in the effort, such as the Washington Youth Soccer Association, Washington State Little League baseball and softball, USA Volleyball’s regional youth volleyball offices and the regional Amateur Athletic Union office, to allow for a more comprehensive restart for all of youth sports built off the efforts of the high school athletes to get their season back.

In all, we think the requests being made here by the student athletes are solid, but they need to be more flexible and more willing to negotiate and involve additional people in the process so that all young athletes can benefit.

SAW has indicated they’ll once again ask the WIAA to change its mind on Friday if this request is not granted, so we’ll see where this goes.

Incident following Idaho high school football game could be costly for one school’s reputation
Also yesterday, word surfaced from northern Idaho of a serious incident involving one of that state’s high school football teams, which calls into question, sadly, the reputation and image of another high school in that state.

According to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, and several other media outlets in Idaho, the bus carrying the football team from Lakeside High School of Plummer, located in Benewah County on the Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation, had to make an emergency stop as it was leaving the town of Clark Fork, in Bonner County, following a game against Clark Fork High School late Friday night. The reason for the stop was that two windows in the back of the bus had been shattered, the apparent result of a projectile which was shot through the windows from the outside. Yes, the bus was allegedly shot at by someone.

The Lakeside High School school district’s superintendent, Plummer-Worley schools chief Russ Mitchell, in a letter to parents posted on Facebook, reported no student athletes were injured but police were called. The paper now reports Bonner County Sheriff’s officers and the FBI are both investigating the incident.

It is unknown what it was which was allegedly shot through the windows, but one of the athletes had this to say about it all. “It might have been a race thing, or might have just been a sore loser,” Orion Taylor, one of the Lakeside players on the bus Friday night, told the Idaho Education News. While we believe it was the latter – Clark Fork, the host school, fell to Lakeside by two touchdowns in the eight-man game (similar to B-8 football here in Washington), if this turns out to be as alleged, that someone did shoot at that bus, regardless of why, this incident stands to do serious damage to the reputation and image of Clark Fork High School, its student body, and surrounding community, and that we find to be extremely unfortunate. And considering some of the back story involved in this, which was alluded to in Taylor’s comments, some of this damage may be difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

Both schools are small – under 150 students each, but Lakeside, being on the Coeur D’Alene reservation, has a mostly Native American student body; according to the Spokesman-Review around 60% of their students are Native Americans, while Clark Fork, which is a small rural high school near the Idaho-Montana border and east of Lake Pend Oreille, has a primarily white student population, with almost all of their around 130 students being white.

We urge both communities, especially the Lakeside folks, to allow for the investigation to run its course and for authorities to bring those folks responsible for this disgusting act which put lives needlessly in danger to justice. As Superintendent Mitchell noted in his Facebook note, “Until authorities have investigated this incident, it is unknown who or what ultimately happened.” But at the same time, we call on Clark Fork school administrators and student leaders to immediately address this issue both within their school and surrounding community in order to begin that healing process and repair of their image and reputation as a school.

The students at Clark Fork and their families do not need to be painted with a broad brush thanks to the actions of one individual who perhaps was a little too invested in the result of the game, but as Mount Si and other Kingco high schools in our state can attest, school image and reputations have taken serious hits for far less serious incidents involving their schools and others. So the students and families there at Clark Fork – all of them – do need to involve themselves with the efforts to deal with this situation and help bring those responsible forward.

Rhett Workman

About Rhett Workman

Rhett Workman is the editor of the Snoqualmie Valley Sports Journal. Workman is a veteran sports journalist, having covered Snoqualmie Valley sports for nearly a decade with the Snoqualmie Valley Record newspaper before starting up the SVSJ. Workman's coverage has earned the support and respect of Valley coaches, players, parents and fans, and the SVSJ continues the standard of coverage that Workman brought to the Valley Record.
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