There are still many questions to be answered but high school fall sports have a start date.
The WIAA approved last Thursday a plan to start what it categorizes as lower-risk sports — girls golf, tennis, swim and dive and cross country — on Aug. 17. Volleyball, football and boys soccer will begin practice the week of Sept. 7 as the WIAA Board of Control looked to push back the start of what it views as higher-risk sports until after school begins.
Rice Lake High School Athletic Director Tim Lipke said the decision by the WIAA provides some optimism but a lot has been left open and further discussion and decisions will need to be made in the coming weeks.
“I think (Thursday’s) decision by the WIAA provides some hope,” Lipke said, “but on the other side of things I’m a little reluctant to get overly excited about the situation just because I know there’s a lot of questions that still need answers.”
It’s difficult to discuss what athletics could look like this fall, Lipke said, as decision on what school instruction will be like are ongoing. The district is in consistent contact with the county health department in determining what school as well as athletics might look like, he said.
“I think there is a lot of agreement across the state that the first issue that needs to be figured out is the school issue, and I think this does allow for some of that as well,” he said of the added time. “Let’s see if we can get school up and running.”
Cameron High School Athletic Director Dave Gerber wonders if pushing back the start date of higher-contact sports is just providing the WIAA more time to decide if they will eventually cancel the season. He said it might make it easier to get school started, but not much is likely to change regarding presence of active cases of COVID-19 in communities across the state in that time.
“I just don’t know if by pushing those (start dates) back if they are thinking they are pushing them back to give them more time, just putting off possibly canceling them,” Gerber said, “or they really feel there is an advantage, that things may be improved in a couple of weeks.
“I don’t see things necessarily being a lot better in two weeks, and I don’t know that they’ll necessarily have a lot more information at that time.”
The WIAA did leave open the possibility of holding fall sports seasons at a later date for schools unable to compete this fall. The details of this option have not be determined.
One proposal, submitted by school officials in southwestern Wisconsin, that wasn’t approved by the Board of Control was the moving of all fall sports to the spring and spring sports to later in the summer. This option could have also included shortened schedules for all seasons with winter sports not beginning until after the new year.
Gerber said holding off until January and having all three seasons play condensed schedules was a viable option, but the WIAA had yet to work out the details and many logistical challenges of moving end-of-season tournaments around made it difficult for the governing body to approve the plan.
“This has been going on for 5 months. Things have changed a lot since we first found out about this. To the first of the year things could change a lot too. I really did think that was a decent option," Gerber said of postponing sports until the winter.
The Southwest Plan was not supported by many of the spring sports coaches associations because of concerns for participation and availability of facilities during the summer.
In a year were adaptation needed to be made, Lipke said the Southwest Plan was something that could work for Rice Lake, although it wouldn't be optimal.
“Not ideal by any stretch,” he said. “There are many issues if you were to go to the Southwest Plan and look at having three seasons, whether that starts in January and ends in the summer or whatever it would look like. Lots of issues, but I do think given the circumstances, I do think it’s a viable option that has to be considered.”
For now Rice Lake and Cameron continue to have summer training programs ongoing. Lipke said after consulting county public health prior to the reopening of facilities in early July coaches have worked together on putting proper protocols in place. While Lipke feels good about what the district has provided, devising from a normal summer routines is difficult.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep our kids safe and to really minimize their contact with other kids, but it’s a challenge. There is no doubt. To say it’s been easy would be unfair," he said.
At Cameron, weight lifting stations have been spread out outdoors and also in the gymnasium. Kids signed up for lifting time slots that they keep all throughout the summer. Workouts are structured with kids rotating through stations with sanitation occurring on equipment after each rotation.
“There is a lot of kids taking advantage of it and I feel like it’s been very safe,” Gerber said of summer workout programs. “The kids are kept away from each other and the number is limited. I feel like that part has been going pretty well.”
Gerber said Cameron is moving forward at this time with a plan to follow the WIAA start dates. He noted the Heart O’North Conference athletic directors are meeting Wednesday as each of the schools look to take a unified approach to fall sports.
Lipke isn’t ready to commit to following the new WIAA start dates. With the possibility of fall seasons occurring at a later date, Lipke said, the number of school choosing that option is likely to increase. There aren’t many counties in the state that don’t currently fall under high COVID-19 activity level indicated by the state Department of Health Services, he said.
“I think we have some options on the table,” Lipke said. “I think the coming weeks are going to help flesh out some of those pieces. I’m glad there is still some optimism about somewhat of a normal — even though it may be condensed —fall season.”
The decision by the WIAA to push back the start date of some of the fall sports does buy school districts more time, Lipke said. The Rice Lake School District has also been conducting summer school and Lipke said both summer school and ongoing summer sports programs could provide guidance for what upcoming school year will look like. The administration continues to be in consistent communication with local public health officials as it makes decision and implements guidelines for this fall.
“We feel good about what we’re offering our kids right now,” he said, “and I guess we got our fingers crossed that we can continue and hopefully these are good training grounds for what maybe the fall school year could look like.”