(Editor's note: This story was updated Monday to reflect new developments, including the cancellation of all practices through April 6.)
The start of Wyoming’s spring sports season is being pushed back — and could be in jeopardy — due to concerns about the new coronavirus circulating around the country.
All Wyoming high school extracurricular activities that had been scheduled through April 6 have been suspended, the Wyoming High School Activities Association (WHSAA) announced Monday.
“So that everyone will be on an equal playing field, there will be NO PRACTICES during the suspension,” WHSAA Commissioner Ron Laird said in a message to schools. “If and when we do resume spring sports, we will hold to the 9 day practice rule and will count any practices from last week.”
That rule generally requires teams to hold nine days of practices before their first competition of the season (with two days for golf and five for tennis).
Following a Monday morning conference call with the Wyoming Department of Education, “there are still questions they will be addressing this week concerning making up of lost days vs. extending the school year,” Laird said. “We will not make a decision on spring sports at this time until there is further clarity on that issue.”
The suspenion will disrupt several Powell High School sports and activities — eliminating a couple games and tournaments for the boys’ and girls’ soccer teams and the season’s first track meet; the district speech tournament set for this week had previously been canceled.
“Unfortunately, now those guys [student athletes] are going to have to wait a while to compete — which is the smart thing to do,” Powell High School Activities Director McKenzie said Friday, before the WHSAA also eliminated practices.
In his Monday message to schools, Laird recommended that Wyoming high schools “encourage your athletes to stay active and work out on their own during this time period.” He added that, “as you know, these decisions could also change as the landscape of the pandemic continues to evolve.”
In Friday’s statement, the WHSAA said its staff “will continue to work diligently with the state entities that are experts in this area and follow their guidance as we proceed in determining the best course of action with the remainder of the spring activities.”
The WHSAA also decided that the Class 3A and 4A state basketball tournaments — which were called off by Natrona County health officials Thursday morning — will not be rescheduled; the PHS boys’ basketball team had been set to compete in the event.
“We understand the tremendous disappointment this decision is for our student athletes, especially our seniors,” the WHSAA said in its statement, “but please realize that we must be a responsible state organization and that our highest priority is ensuring the safety of our students, schools and communities.”
The state speech tournament, an FFA event and a middle school conference swim meet were also called off last week.
“It’s unfortunate for these kids,” McKenzie said Thursday, noting the work the students have put in since November in preparation for the state competitions.
To limit the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, health officials have been urging common sense precautions like frequent hand washing and keeping your distance from other people when you’re sick. But they’ve also been encouraging the cancellation of large events to slow the spread of the disease.
Just since mid-week, athletic competitions across the country have been suspended, pushed back or scrapped — including the cancellation of the NCAA basketball tournaments.
While health experts say COVID-19 poses a low risk to most people, it can be deadly — particularly for the elderly and those with chronic diseases.
The situation took on more urgency in Wyoming on Wednesday night, when the state’s first novel coronavirus case was confirmed in Sheridan County.
Dr. Mark Dowell of Casper, the Natrona County public health officer who called off the state basketball tournament, said Thursday that the decision was a “no brainer.”
Youth infected with COVID-19 generally do well, Dowell said. However, “if the kids spread it and bring it home and bring it to grandma and grandpa, the ages where it really is a problem, then we've got issues,” he said, “and then it spreads rapidly and it can lead to big problems.”