Thousands sign athlete-organized petition to start the fall Washington high school football season

Thousands have signed a petition asking Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to resume the fall high school athletics season. 

The petition was released Monday morning by a group of high school football players across the state who say they have formed an organization called “Saw – Student Athletes of Washington,” with the intention to hold a rally at the state capitol in Olympia on Thursday at 4 p.m. to vocalize their concerns. The group passed its goal of 5,000 signatures early in the afternoon.

“Basically our argument is the negatives of not playing fall sports or being in school in the fall semester, are worse than the negatives if we were in school and playing football and other fall sports,” Cole Norah, a Mount Si senior and one of the organizers of the petition, said.

The petition comes as high school athletes across Washington are sidelined after the fall season was postponed to the spring due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The highly-contagious virus that has infected more than 70,000 people across Washington and just under 2,000 deaths. High schools in 34 states across the country have started the fall football season under varying degrees of COVID regulations, whereas 17 states have postponed the season to 2021.

Norah said a group of standout football players across several schools have been researching how other states have allowed football to return with safety measures and will speak more about it at Thursday’s rally. That group includes Caden Jumper (Eatonville), Jaedon Hall (Lakes), Julien Simon (Lincoln), JT Tuimoloau (Eastside Catholic), Josh McCarron (Archbishop Murphy), Junior Alexander (Kennedy Catholic), Sam Huard (Kennedy Catholic), Reed Shumpert (Kennedy Catholic), Leon Neal Jr. (Harfield), Owen Prentice (O’Dea), Milton Hopkins (O’Dea) and Koli Faaui (North Creek), as well as Norah.

Mount Si’s Cole Norah is one of the 13 players organizing the petition.

“We feel that our voice is not one that is being considered or heard, as it feels that those in positions to make decisions on our behalf are not looking at things from our collective point of view,” the petition reads. 

The petition, which was written by Tracy Ford of Bellevue-based Ford Sports Performance, cites feared repercussions of no fall football season, such as depression among youth, the increased volatility of home environments due to parents working at home, stress on single-parent households and its harm on high school athletes earning college scholarships, among other reasons. The petition aims to restart all fall sports, and Norah said he expects volleyball and soccer players to also show up on Thursday at the state capitol.

In July, the WIAA outlined an adjusted 2020-21 high school sports calendar that pushed football and other sports deemed moderate-to-high risk for virus transmission to the spring. The governor’s office has instituted a statewide Safe Start plan that limits the size of gatherings, among other measured aimed at slowing the spread of the novel virus that has killed around 183,113 Americans this year of the more than 6 million infected, according to The New York Times.

“I see a lot of people are posting the link with the petitions,” Hopkins said. “We’re grateful for all the signatures, we’re just trying to get as many people as we can to Olympia on Thursday.”

Norah said the group of players have doubts about whether or not the spring season will take place. Some high school athletes and their families have moved to other states where a fall football season is taking place under the state’s COVID guidelines.

Norah said his family are worried about the virus and understand its health ramifications, which are potentially deadly (the mortality rate from COVID-19, pneumonia or influenza from the past week is 7.9 percent, according to the CDC), but he wants the state to consider safe ways to allow the sport to return.

WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said he first heard of the petition on Monday, after it was made publicly available, and maintained the association’s support for creating opportunities for high school athletes to compete.

“We all want our students participating and the WIAA is ready when we are given clearance from the Governor’s Office and the Department of Health,” Hoffman said in an email to SBLive Washington. “Many assume the WIAA has the authority to make the decision but it appears our students have identified where that authority rests.

“We also know the Governor’s Office and the DOH are working to keep all citizens healthy and safe. We have been told they will review the latest recommendation to not support extracurricular activities until schools are beyond on-line learning this fall. Again, the WIAA is ready to provide the opportunity once allowed. In the interim, we will continue to provide ideas and opportunities for coaches to interact with students to support their mental health and to provide guidance so students are physically prepared to begin.”

Gov. Inslee has not read the petition as of Monday afternoon, according to Emily Havorson, Senior Communications Manager for the Governor’s Office.

“The governor also wants regular activities to resume but recognizes it has to be done in a safe way that protects students, their families and their communities – and that can only happen in virus transmission goes down,” Halvorson said in an email Monday. “The governor’s office and the Department of Health will continue monitoring the data to ensure that when it is safe for sports to start again, they start in a way that will keep virus transmission low and student athletes healthy.”

Read the full petition here.

(Lead photo by Vince Miller)

Statewide High School Sports Reporter at SBLive | andy@scorebooklive.com

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