It’s been 421 days since any Lewis County high school played a football game — since Onalaska won the 2B state championship on Dec. 4, 2019. Now, on Feb. 13, football fields across the county will finally be lit up and the sounds of whistles and helmets clashing will fill the air.
Mere days away from the first official team practices of 2021, Gov. Jay Inslee announced in a Thursday press conference that the West Region, which includes Lewis County, is moving into Phase 2 beginning Monday. That means for the first time since March 2020, high school sports have been cleared to compete in games.
In Phase 2, moderate-risk indoor sports and all outdoor sports will be allowed to play games, with a maximum of 200 spectators. Tournaments are not allowed. Low- and moderate-risk indoor sports may also hold competitions.
It’s a sigh of relief for local high school teams in the WIAA’s Season 1 sports schedule (football, volleyball, girls soccer and cross country), which have been waiting to see if the West Region would reach all four metrics required by the state to move into Phase 2. Season 1 spans seven weeks, from Feb. 1 to March 20.
Instead, Inslee streamlined the phasing process, allowing regions to move into Phase 2 when they’ve met just three of the four metrics. The West Region includes Lewis, Pacific, Grays Harbor and Thurston counties. The only other region approved to move into Phase 2 on Monday is the Puget Sound Region, made up of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
“That’s awesome,” Winlock Athletic Director Nick Bamer said. “That’s a huge relief. We’ve been kind of told that this newer system is designed not to roll backwards unless something drastic happens, because they don’t want regions yo-yoing. So if we’re there now, it would seem that they must be confident in our caseloads in our region not to have to roll us back. For the next couple weeks, we should at least be able to hold competitions, as long as our numbers stay solid.”
The Central 2B League announced its season schedule on Tuesday, with girls soccer set to begin Feb. 8, volleyball on Feb. 9, and football and cross country on Feb. 13. The 2A Evergreen Conference and 1A Evergreen Conference have yet to release their season schedules and rules as of Friday morning.
Mossyrock dropped down to Class 1B for all sports, while Winlock is moving down to 1B for football only. The two schools will play Naselle, Northwest Christian and Taholah in a modified 1B football league this year. That schedule has not yet been released either.
Inslee also announced that the state Department of Health would re-evaluate each region’s metrics every two weeks, rather than every week as previously done. The West Region came close to hitting all four metric numbers in the first Roadmap to Recovery Report released by the state Department of Health on Jan. 15.
The four metrics include a 10 percent decreasing trend in case rates during the previous two-week period; a 10 percent decrease in COVID-19 hospital admission rates during the previous two-week period; an ICU occupancy rate that is less than 90 percent; and a test positivity rate of less than 10 percent.
Now, teams in Lewis, Thurston, Pacific and Grays Harbor can begin their first week of practice starting Monday without the previous pod restrictions of six players, with games beginning the following Monday, Feb. 8. Girls soccer games that first day of competition on Feb. 8 include Adna at South Bend; Ilwaco at Napavine; Kalama at Winlock; Onalaska at Toutle Lake; and Stevenson at Toledo.
“We can assure people that not only are we making all these efforts to stay safe in schools and at practice with the masks and distancing, but we’re not just practicing to practice,” Bamer said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”