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Q&A: New Greater Spokane League director Ken VanSickle discusses state of the league (Part 1)

UPDATED: Thu., July 2, 2020

This was going to be a hectic year for the Greater Spokane League regardless of the public health crisis.

The state’s new classification criteria allowed several member schools to drop down a class, causing realignment within the league, and the five schools from the Great Northern League to join the GSL for all sports, forming a 4A/3A/2A league.

In April, league organizers – made up of member schools’ principals and athletic directors – split the job of GSL/District 8 director into two positions for the upcoming school year. Herb Rotchford, who used to fill both positions, remained on as District 8 director. After an extensive search, recently retired University High School athletic director Ken VanSickle was named GSL director.

Few, if any, in the area have as much institutional knowledge of Spokane high school sports as VanSickle, as his journey from being a bat boy for the U-Hi baseball team as a youngster, to his high school days in the old City League and Border League and years as educator and administrator will attest.

The following is Part 1 of an edited question-and-answer session with the incoming GSL director and a “State of the GSL” as we approach an uncertain fall season. Part 2 will appear in Monday’s edition.

The Spokesman-Review: This has to be a challenging time to take on a new endeavor such as this.

Ken VanSickle: I’m just excited at the opportunity, and I’ve kind of hit the ground running with some ideas. I’ve heard from athletic directors and things that they would like to see, and I thought it was a perfect time to make some positive changes, with five new schools coming into the league.

S-R: Speaking of changes, the new branding released last week looks great.

KV: I just felt that now was the time to rebrand the GSL and come up with a different logo than we’ve had for a long time. It served us well, but I just felt like we needed something that would better represent our league now in the communities within our league.

I reached out to the athletic directors and asked what would represent their community, so when people see the logo they go, ‘Oh, that’s Cheney,’ and, ‘That’s Pullman,’ and I got some great feedback from them. Several of the symbols, I really feel like represent quite a few of our communities.

I wanted everybody, not only in our high schools, but coaches, ADs, people in different communities now to feel like, ‘Hey, we’re all part of the GSL.’ We’re gonna make a few more tweaks to it but really happy with what it’s going to represent.

S-R: You weren’t retired for very long.

KV: Ha. Well, I knew that Herb was going to be stepping down. When Herb started the job nine years ago, we didn’t have as many schools, and it wasn’t as complicated to do both parts. Initially, I was just going to be done, but when COVID hit in March, I had a lot of time to think about it. I don’t know that it ever goes away, but I still have that passion for working with kids, helping kids. The more I thought about it and talked with Herb – philosophically, Herb and I are on the same page – I was like, you know, this would give me a great opportunity to work side by side with Herb and kind of bring my own personality into the job.

S-R: Your working relationships within the league had to be important.

KV: We have wonderful athletic directors in the GSL, and the addition of the GNL athletic directors – they have just fit right in, really enhanced our group. We have a great group of people that really care about kids, realize the value of athletics. They all get it, and everybody’s on the same page. The principals have all been great. They will put kids first and want what’s best for them.

S-R: How has the pandemic impacted your transition?

KV: We need our sponsors and the people that support the GSL and our athletics. We need them more now than ever. I want to have people realize that our kids need you right now, and really appreciate anything you can do to be a sponsor, help support the GSL and all of our kids.

S-R: What was your reaction to the guidelines for returning to play that the WIAA issued last week?

KV: The WIAA has done a fantastic job of communicating with athletic directors, adapting the National Federation of High Schools’ guidelines and transferring them into our state of Washington, giving out guidelines to not only our athletic directors, but also for coaches.

We had medical professionals on those committees, we had athletes on those committees. We were talking about possible regulations and things we’d have to do to make it safe for our athletes, and asked, ‘What do you think?’ and she was like, ‘I just want to play.’ And she goes, ‘If I have restrictions or I have to wear a mask or I have to, you know, sanitize stuff, I’m gonna do it because I want to play.’

So everybody is committed to have our athletic seasons and make sure that they’re safe, and the kids have an opportunity to compete. If we have to make adjustments, we’re going to do that. The WIAA said we might have to shift some sports, maybe change our timelines, but everybody is committed in our state to provide athletics and activities for our kidsbecause we realize the importance of those in the whole educational system.

S-R: If schools are indeed open in the fall, it’s easier to envision some sports being played over others due to physical contact and proximity.

KV: At the time most of this work was being done, at least in the Spokane area our numbers were looking good. And so our hope was, ‘Hey, if we can continue, and we can get to Stage 3 …’ and start the ball rolling. Then we can see maybe having football, we get to Stage 4, maybe that happens in September, mid-September. Maybe instead of having a 10-game season, we’ll have an eight-game season.

But unfortunately, our numbers are going up. We need our numbers of cases to go down in the Spokane area to get into Stage 3 for several of our sports, and then eventually, you get to Stage 4.

But the WIAA is saying, ‘Hey, maybe we have to bump football a little bit. Maybe we have to move it.’ So, there’s lots of options out there. You know, maybe football doesn’t happen this fall, that maybe we can do something, hopefully after the basketball season. Maybe we bump the spring sports out a little bit.

Everybody’s committed to having all the sports for all the kids, but obviously the numbers have to match that. It may not look the same in every county.

S-R: One would think playing a football season is paramount not only from an athletic standpoint, but from a business standpoint as well.

KV: I think that why it’s so important now that we have our sponsors for league and have people that support all of our league activities.Football generates a lot of money for our leagues. That’s why I believe the WIAA is working to say, if we can’t have football in the fall, when can we? When can we have it to give those kids an opportunity to participate?

But we also need our advertisers and our sponsors to be supportive of our entire league and all the programs, so that we can continue to play all of our sports, and everybody’s committed to that.

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