There is hope.

That’s the message from area high school athletic directors as less restrictive guidelines amid the COVID-19 pandemic allows for a level of practices and workouts, beginning this week.

“The biggest positive with the new guidelines is, it gives us hope for upcoming seasons,” College Place High athletic director Kenneth James said.

New guidelines on statewide restrictions were released on Oct. 6, and the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) worked up new protocols allowing for some in-person workouts.

In Oregon, workouts with strict regulations began on Sept. 21 for traditional spring sports. Those workouts ran through Friday, with fall sports being allowed to train from Monday through Nov. 20, followed by winter sports from Nov. 23-Dec. 25.

In both Washington and Oregon, winter sports are slated to begin with shorter seasons near the end of the year.

In Washington, winter sports (boys and girls basketball, bowling, boys swimming and diving, gymnastics, wrestling) are slated to run Dec. 28-Feb. 22.

The traditional fall sports season (football, with practices beginning Feb. 17, volleyball, girls soccer, boys 1B/2B soccer, girls swimming and diving, slowpitch softball, cheerleading) is set to run from March 1-April 26.

And spring sports (tennis, fastpitch softball, track and field, baseball, golf, boys 1A-4A soccer, dance/drill) are slated from May 3-June 21.

In Oregon, seasons are slated to run much the same as in Washington, McLoughlin High athletic director Chris Meliah said, with about a week’s difference.

School and district restrictions are based on each county’s number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people, the risk category for each sport, and whether students are attending school in person in some form.

At Walla Walla High, athletic director Dirk Hansen sent a release to his head coaches on Wednesday updating them on the ever-changing situation.

He included the importance of having students back in the classroom to allow for athletics activities, and that he’s in close communication with superintendent Wade Smith, who consults with the school board, on protocols.

“While we have a few hurdles left to jump through, overall this is promising news for you and your students,” Hansen’s release said. “I remain hopeful and ask that you do as well, especially with your students.”

Level of student participation varies sport to sport, district to district, county to county, James said.

The Hawks begin hybrid in-school classroom teaching on Monday, allowing for restricted athletics training.

“We are moving forward with sports workouts, but no competition,” James said. “Not every sport is being offered, there are lots of restrictions with screening, mask wearing and cleaning that we’re going to follow closely to keep our kids safe.

“But our kids need it,” he said of the return to school and extracurricular activities. “They need to come back for so many reasons.

“Everything we’re doing is in accordance with WIAA guidelines and our local department of health to work through the plan.”

The Dayton-Waitsburg athletic combine has each school’s student-athletes beginning conditioning and drills on Monday, with restrictions.

Volleyball, football, and girls and boys basketball players will use the gyms, weight rooms and outside facilities at their respective schools. No athletes from Waitsburg will travel to Dayton for workouts, and vice versa.

There will be no games, and only 10 people — including coaches — are allowed at any practice, with no spectators.

Protocols to be followed will be available to parents and student-athletes at both the D-W combine and College Place.

State restrictions change often, see https://wiaa.com/subcontent.aspx?SecID=1240 for up-to-date rules.

This is basically an opportunity to get athletes back into playing shape after being on the sidelines since March, James remarked.

“We’ve been preparing for a moment like this,” he said. “The idea is to get them back in systems with coaches, and start slow.

“We’re going to be very cognizant on getting them back in shape, building strength and to prepare for seasons that are coming.

“We’re starting in a unique scenario,” James said. “We’ll quickly see where kids are at and structure our programs to meet their needs.

“It’s asking a lot coaches, I’ll tell you that much.

“But we’ve got a lot of good people stepping up, they want our kids back.”

Bret Rankin can be reached at bretrankin@wwub.com or 509-526-8316.

Bret Rankin graduated from Western Washington University, and after reporting and editing at several newspapers in western Washington, he joined the Union-Bulletin in 1999 as a sports reporter/copy editor. He has been sports editor since 2010.