Thousands sign student athlete petition asking Washington state officials to reopen fall sports

Student-athletes want their voices heard and they’re hoping state officials will listen. A petition, created by the newly formed Student Athletes of Washington (SAW), is calling on the reopening of fall sports. This request comes after the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) announced in July that fall sports will be postponed until the spring of 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

One student-athlete who signed the petition is Sam Lokeni. The senior at North Creek High School in Bothell plays defensive tackle and offensive guard. He said he was depending on his last season to earn more than just a scholarship.

“My family never went to college. So, I want to be the first one out to go out there and be big,” said Lokeni.

He is still trying to salvage his big dream by using social media to get the attention of coaches and recruiters.

“Don’t give up. That’s the thing about me I don’t give up. I just keep working until the end,” said Lokeni.

SAW is also taking their call for action to the state capitol. The group is planning to march in Olympia at the capitol building, Thursday at 4 p.m. They’re inviting all student-athletes, coaches, families, and supporters to sign the petition and participate in the march.

Tracy Ford is the CEO of Ford Sports Performance in Bellevue. He said several student-athletes approached him for help standing up to state officials. SAW’s petition has a goal of 25,000 signatures and has already received more than 21,700 as of Tuesday evening.

The group is asking Governor Jay Inslee and WIAA to reconsider the postponement and let them play.

“It’s football players, it’s girl soccer players, it’s volleyball players, it’s cross country runners,” said Ford. “It’s very, very important that these kids continue to fight this and that Governor Inslee listens. He controls the key to the car. These kids aren’t trying to drive the car, they’re just trying to ride in the car and go as far as they can along to their journey.”

In a written statement, the governor’s office said it understands the importance of youth sports, the hard work and dedication required.

However, “As with all decisions around COVID-19, very tough choices are made to protect the health of everyone in the state and prevent further spread of the virus. The same principles used when determining how and when to open schools, businesses and activities.”

Ford said he worries the postponement could leave an impact on students long after the pandemic.

“I know kids and I know how detrimental it is to kids development when they don’t have certain things that they’ve worked for. I’ve seen kids do well, but I’ve also seen kids take the wrong path,” said Ford. “When you take some of these kids away from an environment, a team environment, a structured environment…some of the kids with mom, dad—they’re probably going to be good. But the single parent homes, the kids that really don’t have a lot, the kids that are kind of relying on football and school to give them structure, I mean it could get bad.”

In a written statement, WIAA said in part, “We all want our students participating and the WIAA is ready when we are given clearance from the Governor's Office and the Department of Health.”

The statement continued, “We have been told they will review the latest recommendation to not support extracurricular activities until schools are beyond on-line learning this fall. In the interim, we will continue to provide ideas and opportunities for coaches to interact with students to support their mental health and to provide guidance so students are physically prepared to begin.”

Washington State Department of Health said both education and local health decisions are made at the local level first. DOH provides guidance and information to school districts and local health districts to help them make decisions based on COVID-19 activity in their communities.

In a written statement, DOH said in part, “[WIAA’s] decision was based on the Governor’s guidance related to the phase of reopening each county is in. There were several individual schools districts in our state that made the decision to postpone fall sports before the WIAA made the decision that all schools would postpone most (with some exceptions, like cross country) of their fall sports until the spring of 2021.”

As time progresses in these uncertain times, Lokeni said he won’t sit still. He’ll continue working to achieve his goal of going to college and pressing through adversity.

“As long as I keep on my schedule, keep going and keep positive, I don’t think there will be a problem,” said Lokeni.

Ford said SAW has been doing a lot of research ahead of the march at the state capitol. This includes looking up how other states are handling sports and comparing COVID-19 case percentages to those in Washington.