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Washoe County board vote boosts hope for return of high school sports

By Thomas Ranson Nevada News Group

The return to high school sports next month received a needed boost when Washoe County School District voted last week to move its middle and high school students to full-distance learning until Jan. 1, the last day of the scheduled winter break. 

Jan. 2 marks the scheduled return of high school athletics and WCSD’s decision to have high schoolers return in time gives hope that Northern Nevada will be able to have four of the five state’s classes in the NIAA start at the same time. Elko County School District, home to several schools spanning the same four classes – 1A, 2A, 3A and 5A – currently has Elko, Spring Creek and Owhyee on full-distance learning until Jan. 1.

Reasons for the WCSD decisions are to allow for testing to increase and contact tracing to focus on elementary schools while the health district ramps up to be able to provide service across the entire school district by the time students return to in-person instruction in January. Also, WCSD said it’s about 200 substitute teachers short. WCSD will meet again this month to discuss whether to extend the return date for middle and high school students. 



If Jan. 4 holds as the resume date for in-person instruction it will allow WCSD high schools to compete in athletics on time. The NIAA allows practices for winter sports to begin on Jan. 2 with games set for two weeks after. WCSD’s superintendent recommended students return on Jan. 19, which would have hampered schools from competing in winter sports at the same time as the rest of the region.

Donnie Nelson, assistant director to the NIAA, said they’re exploring all options so that the students can return to athletics. 



“We may just have a 3A Northern East League. We may then have to adjust the 3A West with other schools involved,” said Nelson, while also stressing that nothing is official other than the revised schedules already in place. “We may have to adjust the 5A with other schools involved. We will have to possibly accommodate Bishop Manogue, Carson and Douglas differently if the WCSD goes full distance until Jan. 19 and others stay on the hybrid/in-person course. We may have to accommodate North Tahoe, South Tahoe and Truckee differently, as well. At this time, we have a variety of contingency plans in place.”

The majority of the Northern 5A schools and most of the new West division of the Northern 3A are part of WCSD. The 3A WCSD schools include Wooster, Hug, Sparks and North Valleys. Add in California schools South Tahoe and Truckee and the entire West division could be compromised depending on the Golden State’s actions. Several 1A and 2A schools are also part of WCSD and ECSD.

Fallon competes in the 3A East while Oasis Academy is a member of the 1A. 

The NIAA has made it clear that students must be physically on campus for that school to compete in sports. 

But as things stand currently, only skiing is allowed under Nevada’s directive as basketball and wrestling have been deemed high-risk. Bottomline: unless Gov. Steve Sisolak changes his mind about allowing basketball and wrestling, there will be no winter sports at all for most of the schools in Northern Nevada.

The fall season, which includes football as its only high-risk sport, is scheduled to begin in mid-February with practices and games starting during the first week of March. The spring season, which has no high-risk sports except lacrosse (not affiliated with the NIAA), begins in April. 

“All I can say is we’re doing everything we believe possible to get basketball, football and wrestling off the ‘no play’ list,” Nelson said about the NIAA’s efforts with the state. 

A recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison suggested that the state’s high school sports have not caused an increase in COVID-19 infections among athletes, according to the Associated Press. Nelson said the NIAA is using this study with various state leadership groups. 

The UW School of Medicine and Public Health surveyed 207 schools that restarted fall sports in September. The survey found that 271 athletes out of more than 30,000 contracted COVID-19 overall compared to 2,318 Wisconsin children aged 14-17 in September. Only one of the 271 athletes who tested positive said it was attribution to participating in sports. The survey compared athletes who participated in more than 16,000 practices and more than 4,000 games – including football.

“No sports were found to have a higher incidence rate of COVID-19 overall than 14-17-year-olds. None of the cases among the athletes resulted in hospitalization or death,” the Associated Press reported. “All the schools reported they had a formal plan in place to reduce the risk of transmission, including monitoring for symptoms, temperature checks at home and on site, masks for staff and players off the field, social distancing, increased facility cleaning and staggered arrival and departure times for events.”