Students launch social media campaign to urge state officials to allow return of high school sports in Washington

High school athletes across the state of Washington took to social media last week to make a plea to state officials to permit education-based sports to take place on the WIAA’s amended 2021 calendar. 

The posts are part of an ongoing social media campaign led by state high school football coaches associations in Washington, Oregon and California, which have teamed up to create an advocacy group — the West Coast Coaching Alliance — as the states face similar statewide restrictions in response to the surging coronavirus pandemic.

In Washington, the WIAA has amended the football season schedule so practices start March 8 and the first games begin March 19. That will only happen if either COVID-19 case rates unexpectedly plummet over the next two months, or state officials loosen the guidelines required for high school sports to return. 

“I’m ready to do my part,” Wenatchee senior Sim Cass said in a Twitter post, “so are all the other athletes in Washington, ready to mask up and get back to it.”

Lake Stevens quarterback Tanner Jellison, Tahoma’s Cooper Perez and several Wenatchee football players were among those who posted videos as a part of the Washington State Football Coaches Association’s “Phase 2” of its safe start return to play campaign.

According to a release by the association, players were instructed to encourage state officials to “thoughtfully consider the positive benefits of permitting students to participate in educationally based athletics activities” with a positive tone and devoid of political messaging.

In contrast with the students who rallied at the state capitol for an immediate sports restart in September, the WSFCA is simply advocating for the now twice-delayed football season to start on schedule. 

“We know how serious (the virus) is now,” O’Dea football coach and athletic director Monte Kohler said. “If we wait until the end of January, it’s too late. These are steps hopefully building up to Feb. 1.

“Data is a part of it, but we know (state officials) have that. They have the interesting stuff coming out from the different states, successes they’ve had as well as problems they’ve had.”

Under the current guidelines, counties must log 25 or fewer positive tests per 100,000 people in order for sports the state department of health has deemed “high risk,” such as football, basketball and wrestling, to be played. As cases surge around the state, many counties are above 400 positive tests per 100,000.

When some schools were allowed to host practices under strict guidelines during the summer, Kohler, the state’s winningest high school football coach, lauded the opportunity as the best thing that’s been done for kids since the initial outbreak.

“With our kids, we just need to keep the light at the end of the tunnel, keep that hope alive. And protect each other, the bubble, so that we’re not a part of the problem,” Kohler, who is also the WSFCA district 2 representative, said. “That we’re doing the right thing, following the guidelines in order for us to play. It would be pretty devastating if everything got shut down until the fall of 2021. It would be sad. Right now, they are all under a modified season, but it’s keeping that hope alive that they will have an opportunity to play. It’s not about football or basketball, it’s about the mental health of those kids.”

The coordinated campaign is the latest educator-driven movement lobbying the office of Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state department of health to consider loosening restrictions on high school sports. In November, WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman published an op-ed with an argument in lock step with the coaches associations.

The next steps of the campaign include coaches and advisors posting videos on Saturday, then family, friends and neighbors of high school athletes are called on to initiate posting on Dec. 19.

Here are some of the student videos:

Kole Acker, Port Angeles

Sim Cass, Wenatchee

Brady Clines, Interlake

Jason Fridge, O’Dea

Kolby Hill, Wenatchee

Tre Jagla, Wenatchee

Tanner Jellison, Lake Stevens

Cole Johnson, Port Angeles

Jaziel Livingston, Port Angeles

Grant Lynch, Lake Stevens

Cooper Perez, Tahoma

Silas St. John, Wenatchee

Obadiah Young, Wenatchee

Here are the coaches’ comments:

Ed Slezinger, Mercer Island

Jake Kon, Lakewood

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