BREMERTON — The Olympic Sports Center at Pendergast Regional Park in Bremerton reopened on Jan. 5 and held its first slate of youth league soccer games Saturday despite state coronavirus restrictions prohibiting indoor sporting activities.
The owners of Kitsap’s only indoor soccer facility announced the reopening in a message on its website, stating that it would be a “hard date opening for us.”
“To be clear, we will be opening on this date regardless of any further guidance,” the statement reads. “We do not make this decision lightly. We are very concerned about the health and well-being of our players, staff, and community members at large. We have not and will not do anything to jeopardize the health and safety of our community.”
Olympic Soccer Center managing partner Bill Wright said owners arrived at the decision to reopen after researching information about the transmission and spread of COVID-19.
A page on the facility’s website, titled “We Are Following the Science,” links to various sources of data and research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Washington State Department of Health and a University of Wisconsin-Madison study that examined if high school sports in the state had contributed to an increase in COVID-19 infections.
The facility’s operators argue that research supports their decision to open and the ability to operate safely.
“We’re following CDC guidelines as it relates to our specific situation,” Wright said.
Indoor sports competitions aren’t allowed under Gov. Jay Inslee’s new “Healthy Washington” COVID-19 reopening plan, which is set to go into effect Monday. Only “low-risk sports” – including dance, no-contact martial arts, gymnastics and climbing – are permitted for regions in phase 1 of the plan, and then only in small groups for practice or training.
“Low and moderate-risk” indoor sports competitions are allowed for regions in phase 2. No tournaments are allowed indoors under either phase.
In an interview with the Kitsap Sun, Bremerton Mayor Greg Wheeler said he advised Olympic Sports Center on Saturday that it is in violation of the governor’s order.
“(Wright) just said they think they can figure out how to do it safely and they’re going to do their own thing, and that’s not acceptable,” Wheeler said. “It wouldn’t be allowed and that’s what we need to talk with them about.”
The Olympic Sports Center, formerly known as the Olympic Soccer & Sports Center, was first built in 2001 and leases public land from the city. Wheeler said city officials will meet Monday to discuss the next steps.
“I’m disappointed they took this approach,” Wheeler said. “We have folks determining on their own what their risk capacity is and in a pandemic, we need a standard that keeps the public safe.”
Representatives from the Kitsap Public Health District and Inslee’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
The Olympic Sports Center first closed March 13, a few days before Inslee issued his first stay-home order.
In September, the Olympic Sports Center and the Bremerton Ice Arena joined a statewide alliance that sent a return-to-play proposal to the governor. The proposal asked that the state allow “indoor soccer and hockey facilities to reopen for league play immediately.” The soccer center opened for a month in October before Inslee’s mid-November restrictions forced it to close again.
Now that the facility’s operators know more about how coronavirus spreads, they feel confident they can run adult and youth soccer leagues safely, Wright said.
“If I believed that we were putting members in the community at risk, I would not open,” Wright said. “With that said, how long can a business be closed before there’s no turning back? There is a function of that.”
The center does not run “tournaments” – which Wright said involve teams that come to the facility and play multiple games over the course of a day or weekend – but league play, in which teams show up, play one game, and then leave.
He added that the Olympic Sports Center has put multiple safety precautions in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including staggering start times for games, reducing game lengths and the number of players on the field, barring spectators, limiting youth players to one attending parent and requiring anyone in the building who is not playing to wear a mask.
“We have enough data now to understand what’s required for social distancing and protocols and masking, so we’re following that, we’ve gone above and beyond, spacing to create a healthy environment,” Wright said.
Wright estimated that between 75 to 100 people attended Saturday’s league games.
“We have a 50,000-square-foot facility with a lot of fans and ventilation and 25- to 30-foot ceilings, the airflow and the amount of air in there is quite great,” Wright said.
Coronavirus cases in Kitsap
New coronavirus cases in Kitsap have dropped slightly after peaking in mid-December. But almost two weeks after Christmas, the Kitsap Public Health District is still adding more than 30 new cases per day and reported seven more deaths this week, according to the latest data.
Wheeler said the city does not condone businesses or individuals ignoring the governor’s orders and doing so undercuts those who have struggled to adapt during the pandemic.
“When you do stuff like this it’s kind of just defying all the challenges and impacts on our community,” Wheeler said.
Unlike some businesses that have openly defied the governor’s orders, Wright said the Olympic Sports Center isn’t looking to pick a fight with the state or the city.
“We’re not looking to make a statement or cause a problem, we’re looking at our situation and our community and the mental and physical health of our members, that’s all,” Wright said.