Franklin Connection 

Small schools call for sports to resume

More than 70 coaches and educators sign letter to state officials


Last updated 12/16/2020 at 4:23pm

Roger Harnack | Davenport Times

REARDAN - More than 70 small school coaches and educators are calling on the governor to allow them to resume sports post haste.

In a letter penned Dec. 10 by Superintendents Eric Sobotta of Reardan and Jim Kowalkowski of Davenport, officials representing 1B, 2B and 1A teams called for school sports to resume without delay.

Signatures were still being gathered Tuesday, Dec. 15.

Most of the teams represented are in Lincoln, Whitman and Adams counties, including Lind-Ritzville, Sprague, Lamont, St. John-Endicott, Colfax, Odessa, Rosalia, Colton, Davenport, Reardan-Edwall and others.

The only 1A school districts to sign onto the compact were Freeman (Rockford) in rural Spokane County and Riverside (Nine Mile Falls) in Stevens County.

"We have a moral obligation to take action for our students," the letter said. "... Students are struggling with their mental health, and the use of illegal substances appears to be on the rise as students grasp for things to help them cope."

Sports and other activities offer students ways to cope.

The letter notes that without being on campus and without sports, public school enrollment has plummeted and that grades have declined dramatically among students remaining enrolled.

"What our students need is hope," the letter says. "Our students need to experience the extra and co-curricular activities that allow them to utilize their unique gifts and talents and also provide a safer outlet for them to cope with these difficult times."

Select sports

The letter noted that resuming sports is also a matter of equity, as athletes from more affluent families are continuing to compete in select sports leagues.

"They are meeting up in private gyms, playing sports out of state, traveling to other areas for 4-H competitions, etc.," the letter said.

Meanwhile, students from less affluent families are left at home.

"There is an immediate need for our school districts, in partnership with local health districts, to have the ability to slowly and safely engage students in small group extra and co-curricular activities with a return to limited, local/regional competition," the letter said.

The letter was written in response to ongoing sports shutdowns mandated by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association - a "club" that helps schools organize seasons, schedules and championship playoffs, among other activities - in compliance with Gov. Jay Inslee's coronavirus lockdown orders.

Because of those orders, a year's worth of scholastic-based sports will be crammed into about 5 months this coming spring, if they happen at all.

Those who signed the letter could form their own leagues, outside of the WIAA, and compete as they did before the organization existed.

Or, with approval of the WIAA, resume competition in leagues comprising those willing to get athletes back on the courts and fields.

A Lincoln County-based league could consist of Almira-Coulee-Hartline, Davenport, Wilbur-Creston, Odessa, Harrington and Reardan, as well as nearby teams from Columbia (Hunters) in Stevens County, Republic and Inchelium in Ferry County, and Riverside (Nine Mile Falls) in Spokane Counties.

A Whitman County-based league could include Sprague-Lamont, Lind-Ritzville, Washtucna, LaCrosse, St. John-Endicott, Tekoa, Rosalia, Oakesdale, Colfax, Endicott and Colton, as well as Spokane County-based Liberty (Spangle) and Freeman (Rockford), Garfield County-based Pomeroy and Asotin County-based Asotin.

All of the aforementioned school districts had at least one official sign onto the letter, which was also sent to the state Department of Health and the Legislature.

Columbia (Burbank) officials have not signed onto the letter, yet. But under WIAA, the Coyotes often face teams from Ritzville, Colfax, Pomeroy and elsewhere.

Yakama Nation Athletic Director Zachary Janis of Toppenish has signed onto the letter. His Eagles often play against schools like Odessa, Almira-Coulee/Hartline and others that have signed onto the letter.

Suicides in Richland

The letter comes just days after a second Richland student committed suicide and months after another.

A 14-year-old girl, a freshman at Richland High School, committed suicide on Saturday, Dec. 12.

The first suicide April 26 was committed by a 16-year-old boy.

His father, Ted Robbins, has been speaking about reopening schools and activities as soon as possible after his son's death.

Roger Harnack | Davenport Times

"He told us in the letters he had wrote us ... that the COVID lockdown was the last kink in his armor; it was his last straw," he said during a Nov. 24 rally on the steps of the Franklin County Courthouse in Pasco. "What he needed was some help. He needed people in schools to know you cannot go into a lockdown, silo our kids, and not expect there to be problems."

Robbins and his family spends time picketing on street corners in the Tri-City area to raise awareness of mental health issues plaguing students who cannot attend class, play sports or go to their favorite after-school activity.

"We're doing this for all the kids that are sitting at home, struggling right now," he said. "We owe our youth better."

- Free Press Publishing's Roger Harnack contibuted to this report.


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