‘Something is better than nothing:’ Coaches react to WIAA’s decision to reshuffle and reduce 2020-21 sports calendar in COVID-19 era

Nalin Sood, the president of the Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association, summed up perfectly how most coaches are feeling about getting back into a team setting in Washington.

“If you’ve been starving, you are just happy to get a meal – and we are starving to be around our kids,” said Sood, also the Mountlake Terrace High School boys basketball coach.

“Something is better than nothing.”

Added Jon Eagle, the football coach of defending Class 4A champion Camas: “I am excited we might have a season, and the kids have something to look forward to.

“At least there is a plan.”

And after the WIAA came up with its 2020-21 updated return-to-play plans for COVID-19 era high school sports, coaches will need to adjust to shortened seasons.

“I like what (WIAA officials) did,” Clarkston High School boys basketball coach Justin Jones said. “It’s certainly not normal, but nothing right now is normal.”

In this calendar cycle, basketball will jump ahead of football, tentatively scheduled to start practices Jan. 4 (although WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman has left open the possibility of starting workouts in late December, depending on COVID-19 case trends).

Now it is up to leagues to readjust their regular-season schedules, which will likely be reduced by at least four games to fit into seven weeks.

“The earlier we know, the better obviously,” Jones said. “But those decisions might not come until the end (of the fall), so it might force us coaches to talk to our players about being adaptable, and innovating and be prepared for what comes at us.”

The Glacier Peak High School girls are one of many teams around the state who are going to be in a tough spot.

On one hand, the Grizzlies – expected to be Class 4A contenders – are jumping to a combined 4A/3A/2A Wesco league, which brings in some better in-league competition with Arlington, Snohomish, Meadowdale and Archbishop Murphy.

But with a compressed schedule, if the 4A Wesco teams break away and have their own league again, it could give the Grizzles an opportunity to keep a few of their important non-league showdowns with Kentwood, Mount Spokane and Lynden Christian, the reigning 1A champion.

“I am hoping we get to stay in that 2A-4A Wesco mix because it would be nice to be tested a little bit – especially with the playoffs being a one-week-and-we’re done thing,” Glacier Peak girls coach Brian Hill said.

Basketball coaches will also have to balance something they haven’t had to do – managing two-sport athletes, especially ones whose best sport is football.

With a two-week overlap between the completion of basketball, and the start of football, there is a real possibility that an athlete might try to be involved in both sports at the same time.

“We always have two-sport guys playing basketball … and we always encourage our guys to pursue their dreams – especially if basketball is their second sport,” Timberline High School boys basketball coach Allen Thomas said.

“I will try and be as open as possible, explaining the risk to an athlete of doing both. But if football is their sport, and they do not have a scholarship and they are banking everything on what happens this year, I cannot be selfish and always think about what I want. I just need to be as flexible as I can.”

As far as the discussion of a single-week postseason, basketball coaches generally feel fortunate playoffs are still part of the equation – whatever the format might turn out to be.

“Having that nugget at the end of, ‘Hey you still have a chance to go out with a bang, and hang a banner’ – I am glad the WIAA kept something like that in play,” Hill said.

(Photo by Tony Overman/The Olympian)

Football coaches will go through similar ups and downs as basketball coaches, only with a slightly longer preseason and postseason (two weeks) and the same regular season (seven weeks).

The biggest difference is that football is part of the WIAA’s third season in the modified sports calendar – late February to early May.

That might preclude some of the top NCAA Division I signees from playing. Some might enroll early in college. Others might just choose to skip it altogether with preseason college football camps slated to open only a few months afterward.

Lincoln High School football coach Masaki Matsumoto knows that feeling. His best player – senior do-everything running back/safety Julien Simon – has decided to graduate early and go to USC.

Simon informed the coaching staff a few weeks ago of his plans. And on Tuesday, Matsumoto got to spend a few hours around his standout during a “Sports Stars of Tomorrow” episode taping at Lincoln Bowl.

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Later that night, Matsumoto found out that the WIAA moved football to late winter, which meant the end of the Simon era in an Abes’ uniform.

“Obviously in football, it is going to hurt – but it hurts me more personally,” Matsumoto said. “We have a good relationship and all of that, but I wished I had spent more time with him, and gave him a huge hug after the Eastside Catholic game (3A semifinal loss last year) if I had known it was his last game.”

Kennedy Catholic football coach Sheldon Cross was in the same spot with his bevy of Pac-12 committed standouts, notably quarterback Sam Huard, who previously said he was planning on enrolling early at the University of Washington.

But on Tuesday night, Huard called his coach and told him he would be playing a senior season for the Class 4A contender Crusaders (as will wide receivers Junior Alexander and Jabez Tinae).

“I see it from all sides,” Cross said. “And I know how important the UW is to him. But he told me, ‘Coach, stop it, we have some stuff to finish here.'”

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