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Last fall, the loudest WIAA message received by its member schools was that winter sports would still lead off a condensed 2020-21 sports season starting in February.

But the caveat, perhaps conveyed in a whisper by comparison, was that leagues had permission to look at other scheduling options.

And that is what two neighboring leagues did.

Rather than stand pat on a WIAA guideline, athletic directors from both the multi-classification Northwest Conference (primarily Whatcom County) and Wesco (primarily Snohomish County) proactively explored plans that best served their leagues.

Both came up with similar three-season, flexible-scheduling models that re-arranged the order of which sports are played - with fall sports, led by football, moving to the first season (February-late March or early April); followed by spring sports (late March to early April-May); and then finally winter sports (May-June).

It was a good thing they did, because not only have other leagues adopted many of the same principles in their own opt-out, return-to-sports plans - the WIAA has essentially switched to the same model in its revised guidelines.

"They had a phenomenal template," WIAA executive director Mick Hoffman said.

The irony is - both the Northwest Conference and Wesco devised akin opt-out blueprints with little knowledge of the other's plans.

Mike McKee, the Lynden High School athletic director and Northwest Conference commissioner, said "embers" of a new three-season outline began in late November - with the bulk of the plan coming together in December.

"We felt with football being an outdoor sport, and volleyball made a moderate-risk sport, both of those had a better chance of starting in February than (high-risk) basketball and wrestling," McKee said.

Another reason the Northwest Conference pushed winter sports to the late season, which is scheduled to conclude after graduation, was sheer numbers.

"Winter has the least amount of sports," McKee said. "And if you have senior kids who need to go to work to make money for college, or go on trips, we felt those sports would survive a little bit better after graduation.

"We did put good time thinking through the different facets and nuances putting all of this together. Our league voted, 16-0, in favor."

As far as determining which sport season would lead off in the Wesco, league commissioner and Everett School District athletic director Robert Polk said the ADs went with bad-weather sense.

"Soccer kids are used to playing in the rain," Polk said.

After conversations with school superintendents about the current COVID-19 metrics, the Wesco decided to delay the start of fall sports to Feb. 22 - three weeks later than the WIAA guideline.

After hammering out schedules for the final two seasons, the Wesco revealed its plan publicly in mid-December in an article from the Everett Herald.

That is when ADs from other league began calling to inquire about their opt-out prototype.

"We are proud we came up with this plan, and others are finding value in the ideas," Polk said.

Both leagues submitted their plans for state approval earlier this month, and were approved. Now will others follow?

"I was part of WSSAA (Washington Secondary Schools Athletic Administrators Association) for 10 years, and on their board. And one thing I've learned is ... what impacts my corner of the world isn't the same as other places," McKee said.

"Do I think some will (utilize own opt-out plans)? Yeah, I think they will look it - my guess, more than not."