In a non-COVID-19 world, prep football teams around the state of Wisconsin would have begun their 2020 seasons on Monday, Aug. 4.
However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, not only has the start of the Wisconsin prep football season been delayed but for the two local interstate co-op programs the season will not be the same at all.
Instead of handing out equipment to players last Monday and preparing for their first practices on Tuesday, Benton/Scales Mound/Shullsburg head coach Todd Bastian and new Black Hawk/Warren head coach Desi Breadon had to inform their teams that the players from Illinois will not be allowed to compete for their Wisconsin teams in the fall.
“It’s frustrating but we knew it was a possibliity. We were hoping it wasn’t going to be the case,” said Breadon, who is in his first season as head coach of the Black Hawk/Warren co-op. “My head is still spinning. We’re trying to figure things out.”
On July 14, the Illinois High School Association announced that it will defer to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Illinois State Board of Education, and the Governor’s Office on all of its Return To Play Guidelines moving forward.
Then, on July 23, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control voted 8–3 to approve conducting the fall sports season for all sports with a delayed start, setting the earliest practice date for the start of football for Monday, Sept. 7, with the first possible game scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 23, if the first practice is conducted on Sept. 7.
Another component of the WIAA Board’s decision provides schools, that are unable to start fall sports in 2020 an opportunity in the spring to conduct their fall seasons.
Finally, in a special meeting July 29, the IHSA Board of Directors announced its intended plans for the 2020–21 school year. That proposal called for unprecedented scheduling changes to allow for all sports in Illinois to be held over the course of truncated fall, winter, spring, and summer seasons. As a result, several team sports shifted to new seasons including football, which was moved from the fall to the spring. Football in Illinois is scheduled to start on Feb. 15, 2021, and last through May 1, 2021.
In doing so, the IHSA placed restrictions on the players from Scales Mound and Warren from competing with the co-op partners in Wisconsin in the fall.
Both schools checked with their shared legal counsel, which confirmed that the Illinois students would not be able to play with their Wisconsin teams in the fall.
The schools also contacted the IHSA, IDPH, and the governor’s office where they were told the same thing. Those two co-ops — the only two such interstate co-ops in both states — would not be playing together this fall.
“They said they understood the situation that Scales Mound and Warren are in, but that was their decision,” noted Bastian, who is not only the BSMS football coach but also the Benton superintendent and athletic director.
As of right now, neither program is entirely sure of what they will do this season with the situation being as fluid as it currently is. Both coaches have stated that they feel their numbers would be good enough to compete with just Wisconsin players in the fall, while both also stated the option to move their seasons to the spring is being considered as well.
“We want to do everything we can so hopefully the Scales Mound players can play this season with us. Moving to the spring has potential, but we still don’t know if we were to move to spring if our spring dates would line up. There are so many unknowns right now,” said Bastian.
While several large-school WIAA conferences have already cancelled their fall sports seasons, not many small-school conferences have done so, which would limit the teams those co-ops could play if they were to move to the spring.
The Six Rivers Conference has reset its schedule for the fall, so both Black Hawk/Warren and BSMS would have to find new teams to play.
Black Hawk/Warren won the WIAA Division 7 championship title in their first season as a co-op a year ago, and the Warriors were looking to defend their D7 title for a third straight season while seeking their fourth consecutive Six Rivers Conference crown. The Warriors also hold Wisconsin’s second longest active winning streak with 27 straight victories over the last two seasons.
Breadon said that Black Hawk would have around 27 players in grades 9–12 out for football in the fall, so they could potentially play as a solo program. But he also stated that the loss of the Warren players would be tough for the program that has worked hard to form their co-op over the past two years.
“Losing those 17 Warren guys would be quite a blow for us,” said Breadon, who is just the third head coach in the 55-year history of the Black Hawk football program. “The administration at both schools are great to work with so at least I know we’re going to work together to make the best of the situation for everyone. There’s a lot of pressure with what’s expected in this program, but you don’t expect these types of curve balls to be thrown at you on top of it.”
If Black Hawk were to compete without Warren this fall, then Warren may try to have its own 8-player team in Illinois in the spring. Then, in fall 2021, they would team up again as a co-op.
Scales Mound has had a co-op with Benton for more than 30 years, so to have the communities not team up on the football field this season would be disappointing for all involved in the program. The two schools welcomed Shullsburg into their co-op last season and posted a 7–2 overall record with a Division 6 playoff appearance and a second-place finish in the Six Rivers
“I’m disappointed that for the first time in 30-some years that we could potentially be playing football without Scales Mound,” said Bastian. “It’s been a great relationship, and it will continue to be a great relationship in the future. I’ve talked with the administrations from all three schools and, regardless of what happens this year, we’re going to support each other and support the kids.”
The Knights were expected to challenge the Warriors for the Six Rivers crown this season, and they still may with Bastian noting that the team would have around 30 players from Benton and Shullsburg going out in the fall.
“All three districts will try to make it as positive as it possibly can be,” said Bastian. “It’s unfortunate, but we know nothing surprises you in this day and age. It will obviously be harder to field a team with Scales Mound, but we would like to play football in some form this year and I believe we can.”