Athletes rallying for return of Washington fall high school sports request Governor, WIAA’s attendance at ‘open forum’

The Student Athletes of Washington are not done.

In a statement shared by the action group formed by the group of high school athletes that held a rally last week requesting Governor Jay Inslee and the WIAA resume the fall sports season, the group asked publicly for the governor’s office, the WIAA, the state Department of Health and several school districts to join an open forum on Thursday.

The group — SAW, as they call themselves — plans to hold an “open forum” on Friday at 11 a.m. on Zoom, according to O’Dea senior Milton Hopkins, one of the organizers of the rally. At least one member of the governor’s staff will be present, according to Emily Halvorson, Senior Communications Manager of the Office of Jay Inslee.

“It’s exciting,” Hopkins said of the momentum the group has picked up since the rally.

The proposed “Plan of Action” has been shared across social media channels by standout athletes such as O’Dea’s Owen Prentice, Union’s Tobias Merriweather as well as students who led a rally at the state capitol last week. This comes more than a week after a petition aimed at Gov. Inslee and the WIAA to reinstate the fall season garnered more than 33,000 signatures.

There, they outlined a wide range of reasons they believe not having a fall high school season has a more negative impact than if a season were allowed to take place, such as teen depression, loss of opportunity to earn a scholarship and other factors.

“Under current state guidance, playing school sports is still a local decision,” Halvorson said in an email Tuesday. “The governor knows not being able to play is frustrating and disappointing. It is his hope that high school football and other sports can go forward with a spring season as proposed by (the WIAA).”

But the reality of sports being a “local decision” isn’t exactly that cut and dry.

In a meeting with reporters last week WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman outlined how the association is navigating the state’s response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and steps taken by the state government that make playing sports more difficult.

At a time when most school districts across the state are in online-only learning to prevent further mass-spread of the virus, the governor’s office sent down a recommendation that no extracurricular activities take place with all-remote learning.

Hoffman said risk management groups laid out liability insurance implications of not following recommendations made by the department of health and governor’s office.

“That, in turn, prevented schools from really offering anything — even the schools that wanted to do it,” Hoffman, who voiced his support for the student group as a former social studies teacher, said. “That shifted what we were able to provide and offer the membership.”

Hopkins has been encouraged by the several states that have reversed course to allow for a high school football season, such as Michigan and Ohio.

He’s also has kept in touch with Elijah Graham, a former Federal Way cornerback who transferred to Aurora, Colo. On Tuesday, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said high school football can be played in districts that meet the COVID requirements, after the state initially pushed the season start to April 2021. But Wednesday morning, the Colorado High School Activities Association Board of Directors voted to make no changes to the revised calendar.

Hopkins started his senior school year at O’Dea in a remote learning model. Because O’Dea is under the purview of the Archdiocese of Seattle, as is Kennedy Catholic, football players have been working out in small groups — eight students split into groups of four, spaced on opposite sides of the gym, as well as another four students outside — in 50-minute rotations early in the afternoon.

The petition and ensuing rally reached the attention of the people the group had hoped, such as the governor’s office and the WIAA. Hopkins feels there are many people who believe in reinstating the sports season, and they gave those people a voice.

The open forum, he hopes, will bring the group closer to their stated goal — the reinstatement of the fall season.

“Many people want the fall season and school to happen,” Hopkins said. “Getting the attention of the people we want is the major key of it all.”

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