Wyoming high school sports are still on track to start on time, even after the Mountain West Conference postponed fall sports, including football.
Wyoming High School Activities Association Commissioner Ron Laird said Tuesday in an interview with wyoming-football.com that the Mountain West’s decision isn’t affecting how high schools, or the WHSAA, will move forward with fall sports.
“We’re totally different than them,” Laird said, “and I would hope that everyone would continue to look at where we are in Wyoming and what’s going on in Wyoming.”
Laird said the state’s high schools have done well instituting the required protocols to protect students who participate in activities. Laird cited a survey the WHSAA did in late June, noting that more than 4,000 daily screenings of players and coaches had yielded zero COVID-19-positive results.
“Our schools have done a great job this summer of putting those protocols in place,” he said. ” … I have the utmost confidence in our schools that they’re going to continue to do that.”
Of the three tiers in place in the WHSAA’s “Smart Start Guidance,” Laird said all but two schools are in Tier I. In Tier I, schools are open and teams practice screening, sanitizing and social distancing. The only two schools not in Tier I are Wyoming Indian and St. Stephens, which both recently canceled fall sports.
Athletes from those two schools can transfer to other schools to compete this fall as hardship cases, Laird said, but both schools have to agree to the transfer first. Students can also return to their first school and retain eligibility when their first school reopens, but Laird said he hoped schools would work to arrange transfers at the end of grading periods so students who make such a move don’t lose credits.
On a statewide level, Laird said he was not naive enough to think there won’t be cases of COVID-19 on high school campuses this fall. But he also said he is confident in the protocols that are in place if a case does arise. He also said students, coaches and parents need to be honest about what they see.
“Our goal is to complete the season, and our purpose is to have kids compete,” Laird said, adding that students, coaches or parents who try to hide someone’s symptoms so they can play “wrecks it for everybody else.”
“If we want this opportunity, we’ve got to keep doing the protocols, staying safe and making good decisions.”
Laird said state and local health departments and school boards will still maintain control when, or if, COVID-19 cases arise. Laird said he was satisfied with the discussions he has had so far with Dr. Alexia Harrist, Wyoming’s state health officer and state epidemiologist.
“I was just very pleased with Dr. Harrist and her staff,” he said. “They were very reasonable.”
One of the reasons high school sports can continue while the Mountain West cannot, Laird said, were outbreak hotspots in the MW. Since high schools aren’t sending players to outbreak locations like California, Las Vegas or Boise, the risk is much lower, Laird said.
Laramie’s University of Wyoming, meanwhile, is not a COVID-19 hotspot but suffered the consequence of being associated with schools in hotspot areas.
“UW did a great job with their kids and their protocols and the safety of their students,” Laird said. “It was outstanding. … But they have just so many factors out there that they have no control over.”
Laird said one of the reasons high school sports can continue this fall even though spring sports were canceled when the state had lower infection rates is because of the evolving knowledge about how the disease is spread. This allowed schools and organizations like the WHSAA and the National Federation of High Schools to develop protocols like the ones used this fall by teams in every sport to limit the spread of disease.
“I think everybody has just learned so much more about this as we’ve gone through it, including the experts,” Laird said. ” … We’re all concerned with the total health of our students, and the mental and emotional health of our students is an important part of that, too.”
Practice for golf, tennis and Class 4A football started Monday. Practice for cross country, girls swimming, volleyball and class 3A, 2A and 1A football begins next week.
Interscholastic competition starts Wednesday for golf and Saturday for tennis. Football games start Aug. 28.