WICHITA — The Wichita Public Schools athletic community breathed a sigh of relief Monday night.
The USD 259 Board of Education voted 6-1 to pass a motion sending the Kansas Department of Education's gating criteria and decision to cancel all fall activities to the district's COVID-19 Advisory Committee for review. That review is due sometime next week and will return to the superintendent and BOE for final decision.
In short, fall sports might still happen at Wichita Public Schools.
The BOE voted 5-2 Thursday night to place the district in the Orange gating criteria set forth by the state's education department, meaning all activities would have to be done remotely. That decision was met with sharp rebuke as players, coaches, athletic directors and even representatives from schools outside of Wichita, many of whom were from the AVCTL — a suburban league of 26 schools, all of which plan to play, gathered to make their voices heard.
Although Monday's decision does not guarantee sports will return, it buys some hope for those who love them.
The district's COVID-19 Advisory Committee was created during Thursday's meeting.
The BOE asked the public not to direct phone calls, emails or opinions of any kind to the committee. It asked J Means, athletic director of the City League (Greater Wichita Athletic League, GWAL), to tell his individual high school athletic directors to communicate that message.
"It won't make a difference," BOE president Sheril Logan said.
Earlier Monday afternoon, the Kansas State High School Activities Association Executive Board voted unanimously to pass a proposal that established an "Alternative fall" and "Extended spring" season. For schools that do not participate in fall activities in 2020, they would be granted time in the spring with 26 days of overlap with spring sports.
Although the plan has its flaws, it provides student-athletes with another opportunity. It also is not finalized. The proposal will go before the KSHSAA Board of Directors, a body of 78 representatives, at 3 p.m. Friday for further discussion and another vote.
If Wichita Public Schools do not participate in fall activities, the district would be allowed to compete in a fall season without championship events in the spring, if the vote passes through the KSHSAA Board of Directors.
"We're all still pressing with that hopefulness to play fall normal, but the reality might be something that we are not prepared for to cancel everything and move over to spring," said Jason Herman, Class 6A representative on the board and Olathe North's principal, during the KSHSAA Executive Board meeting.
At the USD 259 BOE meeting, Means was granted time to speak, something that did not happen Thursday when activities were taken away. After Thursday's meeting, Means said he was prepared with the information the BOE requested at the previous meeting but was not given the opportunity to present.
When he got before the BOE Monday night, he revealed there had been some positive tests among those involved in City League activities: four cheerleaders and dancers, one boys soccer player and one football coach.
Means said none of the cases resulted in hospitalizations, none were connected and none were contracted while at summer conditioning events.
"We had more than 1,500 kids participate in summer workouts with 6 positive cases," Means said. "I can do the math for you. That's 0.004%."
There were still concerns among the BOE members with the possibility of competing in fall activities. District 1 representative Ben Blankley said he feared the situation would end poorly. Logan cited seeing a few protesters who were not wearing masks or social distancing.
"For us to do this right, we've got to have everybody on board," Blankley said. "... We can do all the plans. We can work really hard. We can get these kids back on the field, and we can put a lot of effort into it, but if just a tiny, tiny minority of folks aren't doing the right thing at the right opportunity, then all of our plans are for not and then we're back in the same situation that we're in right now."
Other board members supported the return of activities, citing the detrimental effects on student-athletes' mental health.
District 6 representative Ron Rosales made the motion that was passed. District 4 representative Stan Reeser supported it, and District 5 representative Mike Rodee, former president of the Northwest High Booster Club, did, too.
Monday's decision to allow the COVID-19 Advisory Committee to review the criteria and decision to cancel leaves a steep hill for the return of activities in Wichita Public Schools. Only the Green criteria called for a return of sports of any kind, from football to girls golf.
But the decision also indicated the positive work WPS coaches, players and athletic directors made through their protests.
"These guys want to do it," Rodee said. "They want it so bad they can taste it."