Five high school football games canceled in South Sound due to COVID

Five high school football games across the South Sound have been canceled due to positive COVID-19 test results within programs, multiple sources told The News Tribune this week. The games that have been canceled are: Puyallup vs. Rogers, Eatonville vs. Washington, Orting vs. Franklin Pierce, Gig Harbor vs. Graham-Kapowsin, and Lakes vs. Stadium.

Puyallup rescheduled and will play Lakes on Saturday at Sparks Stadium.

“Rogers is not playing,” said Puyallup School District athletic director Jim Meyerhoff. “For the health and safety of our students. We’re just taking a lot of caution. It probably sounds worse than it is.”

Let’s be realistic: There’s no other reason for five high school football games to be canceled this week other than COVID-19. Whether athletics administrators want to acknowledge it publicly or not, it’s easy to put two and two together.

Administrators have been skittish about acknowledging positive tests within high school programs, not wanting to incite panic in their communities. They don’t want kids, coaches or programs to be blamed for spreading the virus. They certainly don’t want individual athletes to face retaliation from teammates if they’re identified as the person who tested positive. But even if teams are doing all the right things to guard against the virus, it can still spread. Coaches have little, if any, control over what high school athletes do outside of practice.

Administrators also generally err on the side of caution when it comes to publicly discussing health-related issues of student-athletes, fearing possible violations of privacy legislation like FERPA and HIPAA. While that caution may verge on paranoia, it’s the blanket approach administrators are taking in today’s climate.

The Franklin Pierce School District though, did confirm student-athlete positive COVID-19 test results in a statement sent to The News Tribune on Thursday afternoon. Franklin Pierce and Washington, both in the Franklin Pierce School District, had their games canceled this week. The statement is identical for both a Franklin Pierce case and a case at Washington High.

“One of our players was diagnosed with COVID and we were unable to confirm that this player was not within 6 feet of other players for more than 15 minutes,” the statement reads. “Out of precaution for our players, coaches and students from other schools, we followed the guidance of the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department and cancelled all practices and games for 14 days so that members of the team could quarantine. We are not aware of any additional positive cases among members of the team at this time.”

Schools that have positive tests report them to the Tacoma Pierce-County Health Department, which in turn requires programs to supply contact tracing and protocol information in order to avoid quarantine.

According to an email obtained by The News Tribune, the health department indicated that records should include:

  • All the plays- to include location of players
  • Map out all activities (location of players, time of activity, etc.)
  • Including activities on and off the field
  • During the running of the play maintain 6 feet of distance to explain and carry out the play
  • Ensure 6 feet between all athletes with all activities; masks worn.

For high school football programs — even working out in small pods, masking and following protocols — diagramming every player interaction and movement during practices and games is nearly impossible. So they’re forced to shut down and quarantine between 10 and 14 days.

Franklin Pierce returns to the practice field today, while Washington returns to the practice field Monday. Both are expected to play in next week’s games. In Puyallup, Rogers is also expected to play in next week’s game against Peninsula. Stadium and Gig Harbor will both miss next week’s games.

In general terms, Franklin Pierce School District athletic direcor Wendy Malich outlined the school district’s response if there is a positive case identified within any of the district’s high school athletics programs.

“We have to go back and research when that student was last at practice, when the student showed signs of symptoms and then if the student came back with a positive covid test,” she said. “Then we research back and look at practice plans, who that student may or may not have been in contact with.”

Even if it’s determined that the entire team doesn’t have to be quarantined, it’s difficult for football programs to move forward with playing games if large position groups are unable to play.

Across all sports, this is the reality schools are going to have to deal with for the foreseeable future. Even players who don’t have a positive test will have to quarantine individually if someone in their family tests positive. One positive test can be enough to shut an entire team down for up to two weeks. Games are going to be canceled and schools are going to have to be flexible about rescheduling and finding different opponents to play in the event of cancellations.

This story was written by The News Tribune.