GSHL gives OK for football, other fall sports to begin practice next week

Volleyball, girls soccer, slowpitch softball, and football athletes can practice but can’t play any games just yet

Football and volleyball are among the sports that will be able to start practice next week after all in the Class 4A and 3A Greater St. Helens Leagues.

They won’t be able to play games yet, and they might not be able to at all this school year, but athletes in high- and moderate-risk fall sports can begin practice on Monday.

The Class 4A and 3A Greater St. Helens Leagues will allow for the start of practice in high- and moderate-risk fall sports next week.

Athletic directors met Tuesday morning to confirm the change to their plan released earlier in the month.

Most of the traditional fall sports were given Feb. 1 as the date to start practice, but the region has to be in Phase 2 of the state’s latest recovery path in order for the high- and moderate-risk sports to play games. Because of that, the 4A and 3A GSHL had said that practice for those sports would not even begin until Phase 2.

Now, football, volleyball, girls soccer, and slowpitch softball players have been given the go to practice.

Athletic directors said they wanted to make sure as many athletes as possible could work together with their teammates, even if there was no guarantee that games would be played.

“Something is better than nothing for our kids right now,” said Cale Piland, director of athletics for Evergreen Public Schools, which has four high schools in the two leagues. “To provide as many kids as we could the opportunity to participate was ultimately the decision that the league and the superintendents within the league arrived at.”

The low-risk sports of fall — boys and girls cross country, boys golf, and boys tennis — had already been given the go ahead to start practice on Monday and return to competition in February. 

Now all 4A and 3A fall sports, with the exception of girls swimming, can practice. (Administrators are hoping girls swimming can be scheduled later in the academic year. Access to swimming pools in the winter is limited.)

The 4A and 3A GSHLs will join the 2A GSHL, which had already announced that high- and moderate-risk sports could practice whether the region was in Phase 1 or Phase 2.

According to WIAA and state health guidelines, here is how football, a high-risk sport, could practice outdoors in Phase 1: Practice allowed if athletes are limited to groups of six, with each group separated by a buffer zone. Brief contact is permitted.

Soccer and slowpitch softball are considered moderate-risk sports. Practice and training outdoors is allowed, including intrasquad scrimmages.  

Volleyball is a moderate-risk indoor sport. Occupancy is based on 500 square feet per person. Athletes must stay in groups of six, with a buffer between each group. And brief, close contact is permitted. 

Athletic directors have been meeting weekly throughout much of the pandemic. Those meetings will continue. Piland said the ADs and superintendents will keep looking at the data to see when, or if, the region moves into Phase 2 to allow competition in the high- and moderate-risk sports. 

The hope is to have three modified seasons, just in a non-traditional order. Fall sports start Feb. 1, with spring sports to follow, then traditional winter sports to round out the academic year.