High school sports prepare for season opener as some counties enter Phase 2 of state's COVID-19 recovery plan

The wait is almost over for the reopening of high school sports in Washington. Teams are finally gearing up to play this year after the COVID-19 pandemic nearly canceled their seasons. This comes after Governor Jay Inslee announced several counties moving forward to Phase 2 of the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan.

"It was like we just won a contest to Disneyland they were so excited," said Keith Ross, head football coach at Sumner High School.

Moving to Phase 2 officially kicks off the season for traditional high school sports. Washington Interscholastic Activities Association said Season 1 sports will start February 1st for a seven-week season. 

Related: Student-athletes 'can't wait' to compete after WIAA announces revised sports calendar

WIAA’s website says these sports include cross country, football, golf (alternate), slowpitch softball, girls and 1B/2B boys soccer, girls swim and dive, tennis (alternate) and volleyball. Season 2 and Season 3 sports will follow.

The reopening is a relief for the Blazers at Timberline High School, who have been anxiously waiting to play since 2019.

"Honestly kind of stressful. Just like, one week you’re going to have football that next week and then it gets cancelled. And then six months later you’re down the road and you still don’t have it," said Adam Ahlf, a tight end and junior Timberline.

WIAA said pre-contest practice for Season 1 sports starts Monday.

Related: WIAA announces changes to high school sports start dates

"It’s just going to feel a million times better than ever before. Being out there with all my teammates who have been dying to get back on the field, who’ve been working in the off season," said Grady Broumley, a wrestler and football player at Timberline.

Many student-athletes used their "extended" off-season to stay in shape and run drills. Players said they were still hopeful the season would happen.

"I’ve been putting in work with my dad and my brothers and I’m ready. I’ve been ready!" said Jacob Conley, a safety and senior at Timberline. "This senior season right here is just allowing me to hone in on my techniques and being able to make sure that I’m ready for that next level."

Related: Gov. Inslee announces 7 counties moving into Phase 2 of reopening

Restrictions will remain in place to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. WIAA said guidelines for each sports varies. All of them will still have to maintain safe distance, sanitize equipment and wear a mask. Timberline head coach James Jones said the safety measures are part of their playbook as they try to make up for lost time.

"We have a lot of catching up to do so we’ll be installing our offense, installing our defense, teaching kids how we’re going to do things this year. And it will be different," said Jones.

Something that will also be different from previous seasons: no fans in the stands.

"We do have to kind of look at it in a different lens now. How do we participate in our kids’ football when we’re not able to be spectators? So, we’re hoping for some live streaming to happen," said Angie Ahlf, Adam’s mother.

Since spectators aren’t allowed, James said several parents have been filling up the team’s volunteer positions just so they can be present to watch their child play. Ahlf said parents being involved in their children’s’ extracurricular activities are important.

"I do agree that academics should come first, but part of being a whole human and everyone has their things that they need—these boys need sports. They need football in their lives to help keep them academically motivated, as well as physically fit and mentally happy," said Ahlf.

Ross said the season has been a long time coming, but believes the pandemic was a good lesson in overcoming adversity.

"We use football to teach life lessons," said Ross. "And this has been a pretty big teacher because we’ve had to spend 12 months now hoping and just thinking about what could happen. So I wanted to make sure our kids were ready because we said we’re just going to keep going and doing what we can do until they tell us it’s time."