OPINION: Reporter thanks athletes for fall sports rally

Media, just like athletes, coaches, and fans, look forward to the return of sports

This will be Year 20 for me covering high school football in Clark County.

Whenever the next football season starts, of course.

Paul Valencia
Paul Valencia

To tell you the truth, I’m struggling. Usually, the last three weeks of this time of year, I’m consumed with football practices and previews. Normally, I would not have slept well last night, leading up to Week 1. 

Yes, I still get that adrenaline rush for opening night for the greatest team sport ever invented.

Thursday, though, I got a lift from a bunch of students who went to Olympia. If they have their way, maybe this delay of game will not last as long as previously planned. 

No, I would not bet on any changes to the tentative high school sports schedule in these parts. But one never knows.

I covered my first game in Clark County in 2001. Skyview beat Columbia River that night.

The last football game I covered for Clark County readers was in December of 2019. Camas fans might remember. The Papermakers won their second state title in program history, topping Bothell 35-14.

The Camas Papermakers celebrate after winning the 2019 Class 4A state football championship. Photo by Mike Schultz
The Camas Papermakers celebrate after winning the 2019 Class 4A state football championship. Photo by Mike Schultz

That game was No. 397 for me for Clark County readers.

A hundred years or so ago, I covered games in upstate New York. Plus I had a few years in eastern Oregon and southern Oregon. Hey, I might be around 500 by now in total. But in Clark County, I have my records. It’s 397.

The way I count is it must have been a game that I attended, with a byline, getting quotes, and reporting a full story for you, the readers. This does not count calling a coach who is on the way back from a road game, to get a report from him. (I’ve done a bunch of those, too.) The 397 number comes from the games I was at, in person, doing my thing.

My only regret in the first 19 seasons of coverage? There weren’t more Thursday and Saturday games on the schedule. 

Not sure if you’ve heard me say this, but God, I love football.

Tonight should have been No. 398. This should have been Week 1 of the 2020 season in Washington. Government leaders had other plans, dealing with the pandemic.

The Hockinson Hawks won their second consecutive state title in 2018. Photo by Mike Schultz
The Hockinson Hawks won their second consecutive state title in 2018. Photo by Mike Schultz

Oh, it will happen. I will get to 398. (Then again, I guess we’re all day to day in this life, so probably can’t promise it will happen for me.) But it’s a safe bet that high school football, and volleyball, and soccer, and cross country, and … will return one day.

I, for one, am rooting for the Student Athletes of Washington. Many of them marched the steps of the capitol building in Olympia on Thursday. They were there to show their frustrations with state leaders for shutting down high school sports. They noted how sports are needed for mental health. Sports provide a safe place for many students who want the unity of a team. 

Of course, the athletes want competition. They want to win. But this march wasn’t necessarily about the games. It was about all the other things that sports provide, that bond that all teammates share. 

Team meals. Team charity functions. Team fundraisers. Team. Team. Team. 

The teens who went to Olympia, the teens who couldn’t go but supported them in other ways, such as social media, they know it is so much more than about winning a league title. It is not just to “get seen” by college recruiters.

They want sports back. Not in 2021. Now. 

They see sports happening in so many other states. And on Thursday, it was reported that Michigan had changed its stance and will allow fall sports to start practice almost immediately.

That gave Washington student athletes some hope.

Here’s another thing I loved about the rally. They organized. They were prepared with their speeches. They were heard. And while I was not there, I cannot imagine anyone was disrespectful.

Pretty sure this is another example of young people trying to show adults how it is done.

Thank you athletes. Thank you.

The Union Titans won a Class 4A state title in 2018. Photo by Mike Schultz
The Union Titans won a Class 4A state title in 2018. Photo by Mike Schultz

I am hoping I will be surprised in the next day or two with news that state leaders have reassessed their position and will allow sports.

I’m not optimistic, though. I’m a parent of a high school student now, who, as I write this, is “in class” in our dining room. Even if the state said it’s OK to play, how many individual school districts across the state would allow their students to play? I noted this last spring and into the summer: If there is no plan for school, it’s hard to plan for sports. 

OK, OK, I know there is a plan for school being executed right now. But the plan does not include in-person classes. Not for a while anyway. I would imagine, for many superintendents, it would be difficult to justify playing sports if students are not back in the classroom. 

That does not mean give up hope. 

The Student Athletes of Washington gave me more of that on Thursday. It was appreciated.

Soon, I plan to share some of the numbers from my 397 games. I have the record of every team’s performances when I’m covering their games. Some interesting stuff.

For now, here’s another salute to all athletes in all fall sports. Stick together. Please. Stick together. 

Eventually, I will get to cover Game 398. But I don’t want to stop there. Let’s go for 500, 600, and …


I love football.