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Washington school districts cautiously optimistic about student athletics this year

School districts and athletic directors are implementing guidelines they hope will keep student athletes from being sidelined due to a COVID-related illness.

KIRKLAND, Wash. — The fall athletic season is underway for schools across Washington. However, this season will be unlike those that came before, even those previously wiped out by the spread of COVID-19. 

School districts and athletic directors are implementing guidelines they hope will keep student athletes from being sidelined due to a COVID-related illness.

"We're in the memory making business with education based athletics and it's really exciting to see those kids have those experiences,” said John Appelgate, the director of activities and athletics for the Lake Washington School District. "To get back out there and have that be part of their everyday experience is really helping them make those memories that you get one shot at. You get one window for high school."

Appelgate said safety during sports has long been paramount at Lake Washington schools. 

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"Even before COVID, it was our number one priority that every I is dotted and every T is crossed from the safety perspective, from our facilities to our athletic clearance, to our coach's training, to make sure they're as safe as can be before they can compete," said Appelgate.  

Appelgate said those safety measures have continued throughout the pandemic. 

“The Lake Washington School District has done a fantastic job of putting together a team, an emergency coordination center team, that really works on interpreting the guidance and putting together a safety plan," he said.

The guidance for scholastic athletics in Washington comes from a collaborative effort between Gov. Jay Inslee, the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA). 

"The other piece that factors into this is risk management is companies that are providing insurance and coverage and guidance for schools," explained WIAA Executive Director Mick Hoffman. "We had those risk management companies or attorneys who are interpreting this, with the superintendent’s association, with the department of health and the governor's office, all helping craft this language. So, we all knew that whatever came forward, we're going to be able to do."

RELATED: Washington state releases updated COVID-19 guidelines for student-athletes

Some of the guidelines, outlined by the DOH, state that universal masking will be required for all athletes, coaches, trainers and support personnel while inside weight rooms, regardless of vaccination status. Weight rooms are often poorly ventilated and are considered "high-risk," according to the DOH. 

Masks will be encouraged, but not required for athletes competing in low-contact or moderate-contact sports indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Masks will not be required for fully vaccinated athletes competing in high-contact indoor sports, the DOH said. 

For a full list of the guidelines, click here. 

"Like every plan, it's only as good as your execution and we have to rely on our leadership, our staff, our students to really follow the guidelines and do the best they can to keep each other safe,” Appelgate continued, however, he described the rules set before each school as fluid. 

"We've had changing guidance because the science is changing. How we interpret the science has changed from the federal level to the state level to the county level. We have to roll with those changes and help explain them to our students, to our staff and to our communities," he said.