Creating a fall sports season and giving opportunities to student-athletes was on the top of the WIAA Board of Control’s list at a special business meeting on July 23.
The Board of Control also sought to be mindful of health and safety concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to an examination of when “lower-risk” and “higher-risk” fall sports should begin and a decision to delay the season’s start.
Ultimately in the end, the virtual three-hour meeting culminated with the Board of Control approving a plan for the 2020-21 school year to start practice for girls golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving, and boys and girls cross country Aug. 17, while football, boys soccer, and girls and boys volleyball can begin practice Sept. 7.
The motion, made by District 2 representative Scott Winch, of Stratford, also included language which would provide schools and conferences that are unable to play this fall, potential opportunities in the upcoming spring season. The WIAA will finalize those details at a later date.
“I was happy they made a decision and at least we’re going to start things, and hopefully they’ll all work out,” Wisconsin Dells new activities coordinator Trina Slack said. “In terms of how that looks for our school, we’re going to just proceed as if everything is a-go, starting on the dates they indicated.
“That will require a bit of rescheduling with some of them, but I think people here are excited and hopeful this is going to work.”
District 7 representative Phil Ertl, of Wauwatosa East, proposed an amendment to move “higher-risk” sports to an Aug. 24 start date, but it was defeated, 9-2.
WIAA executive director Dave Anderson was in favor of having fall sports because he believes it is important for student-athletes to have as many opportunities to participate as possible during this time.
Anderson, advocating flexibility and creativity, said during last Thursday’s virtual meeting, “Let’s do our best to find a way.”
The WIAA canceled the end of the girls basketball and boys basketball postseasons prior to completion in March, then canceled spring sports competitions and state tournaments last spring due to concerns about COVID-19.
WIAA fall sports include boys and girls cross country, 11-man and eight-man football, boys soccer, girls swimming and diving, girls tennis and boys and girls volleyball.
The Board of Control, which has its next regularly scheduled meeting Aug. 14, addressed a proposal to move fall sports to the spring of 2021 and shift spring sports to the summer.
But the decision to move ahead in the fall was approved. First-year Wisconsin Dells football coach Mike Janke was pleased with the WIAA’s choice to only postpone the start of the 2020 fall sports season.
The Board of Control ultimately passed on a proposal from administrators in the southwest portion of the state for the upcoming year only, which suggested a delay in all fall sports until the spring of 2021. That proposal would have had fall sports begin in March and end in May, while spring sports would have begun at the end of May and extend past the end of the school year into July.
The proposal had support because it sought to offer three sports seasons, in case the fall sports season might be interrupted or not played.
“I was (leaning) more towards delaying rather than pushing to spring, because just talking to some of the spring coaches I’ve coached with or just coach spring sports in general, they weren’t too fond of pushing everything back from their stance,” Janke said. “I was happy with the delayed decision and it allows for some kind of normalcy, I hope, and it gives us four or five extra weeks to look at this and put together a solid plan, to really know that this is going to work and be safe for our kids.”
Practices for fall sports were scheduled to begin in August, starting with football. The first day permitted to hand out football equipment was originally scheduled to be Aug. 3, with the first practices permitted Aug. 4 and games starting Aug. 20. That now will be delayed.
The other previously scheduled starting dates for practices were girls golf on Aug. 10, girls swimming and diving on Aug. 11, girls tennis Aug. 11, boys and girls volleyball Aug. 17, boys and girls cross country on Aug. 17 and boys soccer on Aug. 17. Under the approved plan, only boys and girls cross country remains the same.
Wisconsin Dells girls golf coach Seth Neilsen appreciated the WIAA’s move to separate the starts of the “lower-risk” and “higher-risk” sports. With that being said, he admitted the Chiefs’ 2020 schedule will definitely look different.
Given the fluid nature of other school district’s decisions, Neilsen believes tournament and invitational fields, or formats, will shrink and change. Neilsen said he plans to convert the Chiefs’ traditional two-day Wisconsin Dells Invite to a one-day team scramble event. He’s also confident the sport can go on.
“Even when this whole thing was going on in March, the first to open up was golf courses. There’s a way we can do golf,” he said.
While Neilsen is confident, there are other concerns that have been raised. Included is there being a shortage of coaches, officials and facilities/fields/courts if seasons were moved; graduating seniors might not wish to play summer sports; there could be transportation difficulties; and there would be conflicts for athletes trying to decide between playing for their high school or their AAU, club and travel teams.
For Slack, another large issue looms with how Wisconsin Dells chooses to set up its practices.
“We need to be proactive and try to make this the best possible scenario so we don’t have an outbreak,” she said. “So maybe that means practices look a little different than in the past, but moving forward we all have to try to be on the same page and proactive instead of reactive.”
On July 21, it was announced that Big Eight Conference competitions will not be held and conference champions won’t be named during the fall sports season, news that came after league athletic directors had a virtual meeting that afternoon.
The Big Eight, comprised of mostly schools in Dane County, became the first conference in the state to make such a decision, while the Fox Valley Association Conference announced on Tuesday to hold conference-only competitions.
Slack is set to meet with the other five athletic directors from the South Central Conference on Aug. 12 to discuss their fall plan. Slack is confident student-athletes will be open to any and all decisions should they lead to sports being held.
Janke, who admitted it hasn’t been easy preparing for his first season in charge of the Chiefs, shared those sentiments and knows how vital athletics can be.
“That’s where they get their camaraderie time, make their lifelong friends and we saw the study results where there were serious ramifications for kids not having sports that are used to them,” Janke said. “When you take that away from them, it can’t be good mentally.”
“You read article after article about the mental aspect of sports and school, and I really hope we’re able to offer some sort of normal, whatever that means, for our kids involved with athletics and school,” Neilsen added.
Follow Sean Davis on Twitter @SDavis_PDR or contact him at 608-745-3512.
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