There was plenty of doubt about if high school sports would resume play this year.
So when local leagues announced this week a start date of Feb. 1, Clark County athletes were overjoyed.
The 2A Greater St. Helens League became the fourth local league to announce a return-to-play plan with a news release Friday, joining the 4A and 3A GSHL and the 1A Trico with a Feb. 1 start date.
Competition can begin immediately for low-risk sports, which include boys golf, cross country and boys tennis. Moderate and high-risk sports such as football, slowpitch softball, volleyball, swimming and girls soccer may start practicing on Feb. 1, but can’t participate in competition until the Southwest Region reaches Phase 2 of the state’s “Stay Healthy” plan, 2A GSHL athletic directors announced Friday.
“I tried to stay optimistic about things. It was definitely a weird time,” Ridgefield senior golfer Cade Bringhurst said. “There were times I thought it wasn’t going to happen, but this is great news. We’re super excited to get back out there and compete against other high schools.”
Bringhurst is one of several elite returning golfers. Camas returns three All-Region golfers in Evan Chen, Eli Huntington and Owen Huntington while Mountain View returns three standout players in Graham Moody, Tyler Klepec and Willy Yeh. All three teams won district titles last season, and hope for some sort of season-ending district competition this season after the state championships were canceled last year.
“All my favorite high school experiences have to do with playing golf,” said Yeh, a senior. “It’s really important to me and we want to take full advantage of the opportunity. … We want to leave behind a good legacy for Mountain View golf.”
Camas junior cross country runner Evan Jenkins is coming off a fourth-place individual state finish en route to leading the Papermakers to their first boys team title. While he’s excited to compete again, he didn’t shy away from addressing the disappointment of not having a state event.
“Obviously the motivation is to get to state and get a state title. Sadly, that won’t happen,” Jenkins said. “But having races right now is more than I could have asked for.”
Jenkins considered transferring to a state that allowed runners to compete in big events, but ultimately decided against it. Last summer, he ran individually in a few meets in Arizona. It wasn’t the same without his teammates.
“What’s special about dual meets is being with your team and just being together,” Jenkins said. “It’s hard to stay motivated and have fun without your team.”
Strenuous cross country races will have an added challenge this year: masks. The state Department of Health currently mandates masks to be worn during all competitions.
The WIAA has sought additional clarification on the policy, Heritage athletic director Erik Gonzalez said.
“Having a mask on would definitely limit your potential. You need oxygen to run fast,” Jenkins said. “But it’s better than nothing.”
While moderate- and high-risk sports’ return to competition is determined by how quickly the region’s COVID-19 metrics improve, athletes in those sports still rejoiced at having practices resume with a more clear hope of games being played again.
“I’m just beyond excited,” Columbia River girls soccer senior Reggie Griffith said. “Just to hear those words: ‘We’re going to have a season.’ I’ve been waiting for it.”
The region currently meets just one of four metrics to resume competition, but Griffith and her teammates are confident they’ll have a chance to compete.
“We all really want to play,” Griffith said. “But just to have practice and know we are working toward something, it’s a lot more special.”
For La Center football senior Tom Lambert, this season is particularly meaningful to him. It’s his last chance to play with his father, John.
Lambert grew up around the program and always looked forward to a final season under his dad’s guidance. When the season was in doubt, Lambert got emotional thinking about not being able to embrace his dad after a final game.
“Sometimes I get teared up just thinking about it,” Lambert said. “I don’t really want it to end.”