Lia Crawford, captain of the Vashon Island High School girls tennis team, practices her swing on Monday, March 9, at the school. (Kevin Opsahl/Staff Photo)

Lia Crawford, captain of the Vashon Island High School girls tennis team, practices her swing on Monday, March 9, at the school. (Kevin Opsahl/Staff Photo)

Updated: Athletics to continue despite coronavirus threat

School district superintendent said for now games will continue as scheduled; players, coaches react

Editor’s note: In a message to families sent on Wednesday, March 11, Slade McSheehy, superintendent of the Vashon Island School District, said that all events scheduled outside of school hours — such as athletics, band events and SAT testing — had been canceled or postponed. Later that evening, he announced the closure of the school district beginning Friday, March 13, for six weeks. The closure is planned to last until Friday, April 24.

The school board will meet as planned at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 12, at Chautauqua Elementary School to discuss coronavirus impacts and planning.

We will give updates on changes and further closures as we learn more. Please email or with questions or news tips.

Vashon Island High School had a notable winter sports season, with the wrestling team placing 11th at the Mat Classic XXXII 1A state championship while the boys basketball team made playoffs, only to lose.

Now, the island’s high school is looking ahead to spring season, with a slew of other sports: baseball, boys/girls track, boys/girls golf, boys soccer, softball and girls tennis.

Vashon Island School District Superintendent Slade McSheehy said in a prepared statement on Monday that even with numerous confirmed cases and deaths from the coronavirus, district games will still be played, with an “increased focus on sanitation and handwashing.”

He added that, at this point, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association WIAA (state athletic governing association) has not offered any guidance other than what Public Health – Seattle & King County has offered.

But, McSheehy cautioned, “These decisions may change as we receive future guidance and direction.”

Those comments come as professional and college sports teams take measures to protect themselves and their fans from the coronavirus. Some teams have opted to cancel games or play them without spectators. Late Monday, Major League Soccer, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League said they were restricting locker room access to players and essential employees.

Asked for further comment on VISD’s current decision to keep games as scheduled, Andy Sears, athletic director for the district, said he thought McSheehy’s statement was clear.

“We work with our partners and who we’re playing in trying to make the decisions possible,” Sears said. “Every district has a little bit different contact with the virus, so they make the decisions best for our district and we make the decisions best for our district.”

On that note, Sears noted he had learned earlier in the day that two games have already been canceled: A VHS baseball game vs. University Prep in Seattle and a softball jamboree hosted by Mercer Island.

“When we can, we’ll try to reschedule and move forward, as this is a very fluid situation,” Sears said.

He hesitated when asked about the district’s athletic programs getting off to a late start because of coronavirus.

“You just kind of roll with what’s out there … We want our kids to have a great experience and play as many games as possible,” Sears said. “I am a little bit worried about the season being cut short or our spring teams not having the great athletic experience they could have had if they had played a full season, but I’m also confident we’re going to make the best decisions possible for them and the safest decisions.”

Sears also spoke to The Beachcomber about McSheehy’s expectation to emphasize increased sanitation and handwashing in sports — which involve contact from person-to-person and can be dirty. He said it comes down to “best practices,” including washing uniforms, showering and wiping down equipment whenever possible.

Coaches can “hold standards of high sanitation,” Sears said.

“It’s just our coaches sending a clear message and our student-athletes listening to that message,” he said.

During practice at the tennis courts on the VHS campus on Monday, girls tennis coach Molly Champagne sounded optimistic about the season when asked about any concerns about the coronavirus she had.

“Everybody’s happy and healthy and we’re good,” she said. “Nobody’s been sick. I don’t really foresee it being an issue.”

Lia Crawford, the tennis team captain, said the coronavirus hasn’t affected the team “yet.” She likened COVID-19 to the weather — something you always have to workaround.

She believes the team will make it through the season without a coronavirus case, as there has not been any reported so far originating from the island. And collectively, many schools have not had to cancel their sporting events, she said.

The same day tennis practice was occurring on Vashon Island, the Vashon Golf team practiced on Maury ahead of a tournament the island will host for all schools later this month.

Paul Wahlen, coach of the team, said he “wouldn’t at all be surprised if we lost some of our games due to the COVID-19 virus.”

“I certainly hope we don’t, but I understand the importance of public health and understand if they do cancel some of our games,” he wrote in an email.

Wahlen noted the WIAA’s guidance on encouraging hand washing. On top of that, he said the coaches on his team have been providing disinfectant wipes for golf club grips.

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