DECISION COULD COME TODAY
PREPARING FOR FALL –– MAYBE?
Board of Control meets to discuss fall options
The time is coming soon for decisions to be made on the start to the 2020-21 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
A decision on the fall season for high school sports in Wisconsin could come as soon as today, Thursday.
Not initially scheduled to meet this month, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Board of Control met virtually today at 9 a.m. to discuss options for the fall season. So far, the WIAA has taken the stance of pressing forward with the fall season as scheduled and allowing districts to make their own decisions about whether their school teams would compete with guidance from local health departments.
That may be changing with the state’s largest school districts announcing plans to start the year virtually and the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the state within the last month. The Big 8 Conference, which includes schools from Madison and its suburbs, Janesville and Beloit, announced Tuesday it is not holding conference competitions and not naming conference champions in the fall since some of its members’ school facilities will be closed. At the time of the announcement, Big 8 schools that were cleared to have fall sports were allowed to schedFall sports options
ule non-conference competitions.
The Colby Board of Education Monday moved the first practice date for all of its fall sports to Aug. 18, which forced early competitions, including the first two football games, to be canceled. State football power Waunakee canceled its first two non-conference games last week and isn’t planning to start practice until Aug. 17.
A game-changer may have emerged from administrators representing the southwest corner of the state. In early July, district administrators from Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 3 submitted a proposal to the WIAA to move the 2020 fall sports season to the spring of 2021 and then move the spring sports to the summer of 2021. Winter would stay as is or, if needed, be shortened to start practices in mid-December and competitions the first week of January.
The idea seems to be gaining momentum since it became public knowledge within the last week.
“If it’s looking like we have to cancel fall sports, I’d go on record saying this is something we would have to seriously think about,” Medford district administrator Pat Sullivan said Tuesday.
The CESA 3 administrators that sent the proposal to the WIAA represented the Lancaster, Pecatonica, North Crawford, Weston, Mineral Point, Potosi, Ithaca, Fennimore, Highland, Cuba City, Seneca, Riverdale, Southwestern, Argyle, Prairie du Chien, Platteville, Barneveld, Black Hawk, Benton, Darlington, Shullsburg, Iowa-Grant, River Ridge and Dodgeville school districts.
They touted their plan as a way to keep hope alive for all seasons to be completed, even if it is in an abnormal fashion.
“If the WIAA announced this new sports season schedule as a temporary measure to combat the spread of COVID, it would provide a measure of hope to our students, coaches, families and communities that although it might look different, all WIAA student activities would be able to continue,” their letter states. “This would provide our student-athletes some optimism there could be three separate seasons as we have had in the past. This would also help reduce the mental stress of our students compared to total cancellation.”
The WIAA sent administrators throughout the state a survey over the weekend asking if their school districts preferred beginning sports programs as currently planned for fall 2020, delaying the start of the fall programs until Sept. 1 or a similar date following the opening of school, pursuing a plan like the CESA 3 administrators proposed or cancelling athletic programming for now and deciding about conducting seasons later in the year if or when conditions change.
Survey responses were asked to be made by the end of the day on Tuesday.
Among notable decisions around the nation, neighboring states Iowa, Illinois and Michigan have all announced they are planning to forge ahead as planned with their fall sports seasons. Minnesota isn’t expected to make a decision until next week.
Last week, New York announced its fall sports season would be delayed and regional and state championships would be canceled. California announced Monday its high school sports season won’t begin until December or January. The District of Columbia isn’t starting until then either. Texas is postponing the start of football for its large school divisions, but small-school divisions will proceed as normal. Arizona is delaying its start of fall athletics, while New Mexico is pushing fall contact sports to spring.
Washington on Tuesday announced a complete restructuring of its prep sports year with football, boys and girls soccer and volleyball being played from early March to early May and a fall season consisting of non-contact sports like cross country, slowpitch softball, girls swimming, golf and tennis. Virginia is not allowing football this fall and is considering delaying and switching other seasons.
Sullivan and Rib Lake district administrator Rick Cardey both said Tuesday the main positive attribute of the CESA 3 proposal is the hope it gives all studentathletes that their seasons can happen this school year and hopefully reduces the odds of a season stoppage.
“I’m all about the opportunities that we can provide for students,” Cardey said. “This might be the best opportunity.”
“If it’s the only way we can do fall sports, it lets kids play football this year, run cross country this year, have girls volleyball,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan noted graduating seniors entering the military could be most affected by moving spring sports to summer. Concern has been raised in some parts of the state regarding spring football and the potential need to use turf facilities as much as possible if the winter is long and/or the spring is wet.
Field conditions were a concern for Gilman administrator Wally Leipart, who said he leaned toward delaying the start of the fall season.
“A lot can happen in six weeks before school starts,” he said. “It would be nice if we could get school started before we start bringing teams together.”
Leipart said he would be concerned about participation levels of spring student- athletes, who have already lost one year, if their sports were moved to summer, especially graduating seniors. Leipart also said he feels it’s important for the WIAA to implement a safety-check protocol to help assure athletes traveling from school to school aren’t sick.
The last WIAA-sponsored competitions were girls and boys post-season basketball games on Thursday, March 12. Late that night, the WIAA canceled the ends of those tournaments, which were at the state level for girls and sectional level for boys. Rib Lake’s boys basketball was among those still playing at the time. The spring season consisted of one week of track and field practice before being postponed and eventually canceled entirely in late April.
Summer contact days were allowed in July under WIAA and local health department guidelines. Going into today’s Board of Control meeting, the first practice dates for fall sports were Aug. 4 for 11-player football, Aug. 11 for girls tennis, girls swimming and eight-player football, which debuts in Gilman this year and Aug. 17 for cross country, boys soccer and girls volleyball.