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Will there be fall sports in 2020?
Area schools prepare for new season amid COVID-19, CESA 3 explores proposal to move 2020 fall sports to the spring
Platteville senior Seth Millsap caught 18 passes for 214 yards and four touchdowns last year for the 6–4 Hillmen. Millsap and the Hillmen, as well as other high school football teams across the state are scheduled to begin practice Tuesday, Aug. 4.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting nearly everything in the United States and around the globe, including professional, college and high school sports in the U.S.

As schools continue to discuss plans for opening school, they are also trying to work out what the fall sports scene will be like, or if they will have fall sports at all this upcoming school year.

As everyone knows, circumstances can change quickly, and each school district will have to adapt their plans rapidly regarding the opening of school and regarding fall sports.

Most schools are scheduled to begin on Sept. 1. High school fall sports practices usually begin in early to mid-August for most sports. 

Football practice for 11-player teams can begin as early as Aug. 4 this school year. Equipment handout for 8-player football teams is set for Aug. 10. Girls swimming is allowed to begin practice Aug. 11, while Aug. 17 is the earliest day allowed for teams to begin fall practice for volleyball, cross country and boys soccer.

Spring sports were cancelled throughout the state this past school year, and area schools are not offering WIAA sanctioned spring sports in July. Some schools have allowed summer league baseball and softball teams. Platteville High School is also hosting a series of high school track and field practices in July.

Individual school districts are looking for guidance from the WIAA as to how to proceed regarding sports, and will need to make their tentative plans soon.

“We hope there is opportunities for schools to open and conduct interscholastic activities,” said WIAA Communications Director Todd Clark. “However, we understand things will be done a bit differently this year with the pandemic mitigation guidelines. How and when each school will be able to move forward to practice and compete will be the decision of local/tribal health departments and the schools based on the level of risk in their respective communities.

“We are focusing on trying to get high school students re-engaged with peers, coaches, etc., because of the research and growing sentiment concerning the psychological toll on teens not being connected with sports. Our office is working on fall sports competition guidelines that we will be sharing with the membership within the next couple of weeks.”

“Fall sports are going on as scheduled,” said WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson Monday. “We certainly understand and recognize that some of them can move forward a little bit more easily than some others. I would not say anything is ever off the table.”

Platteville High School and the rest of the teams in the Southwest Wisconsin Conference are preparing for the upcoming season using local health recommendation safety guidelines, but know nothing can be set in stone during these ever-changing times.

“Nothing has been decided yet and no meetings have occurred as we are waiting to hear from the WIAA and all others that need to issue guidelines,” said Sara Godfrey, Prairie du Chien athletic director and SWC commissioner, about whether Prairie du Chien is going to participate in fall sports this upcoming season.

“The WIAA has put us in a difficult situation by putting all decisions under local control,” added Platteville High School Assistant Principal/Activities Director Mike Foley. “Nobody knows what is going to happen. We have to be really careful. We want the best possible outcome for our kids and we want to keep our kids safe and their families.

“I know the public wants answers, but we, as administrators, are all new to this as well. It’s a day-by-day situation because things can change so fast.”

Platteville High School opened its weight room and gymnasiums for open gyms on July 1 using a 4-to-1 player-to-coach ratio.

“Right now we are considered to be open for weight room and open gyms, but only four athletes are allowed in the weight room or the gym at a time with one coach,” said Foley. “For outside sports, where we are able to spread out, more athletes are able to participate at one time.”

Most other Grant County schools allowed 10 students in weight rooms and gyms, though Boscobel allowed six and Iowa–Grant eight. Potosi and River Ridge allowed 15 in their gyms, Cassville allowed 20 in its gym, and Cuba City allowed 25 in its gym. Limits on outdoor facilities ranged from six (Boscobel) to 10 (Fennimore, Lancaster and Southwestern) to 20 (Cassville, Potosi and River Ridge) to 25 (Cuba City and Iowa–Grant) to no limit (Riverdale).

Foley said the SWC hopes to have a meeting of athletic directors later this month to discuss the possibilities for area fall sports.

One alternate possibility, discussed during Wednesday morning’s meeting of Southwest Wisconsin school district administrators, would move fall 2020 sports — football, volleyball, cross country and boys soccer — to the spring of 2021, and delay the start of winter 2020–21 sports to around Jan. 1. Spring 2021 sports — track, baseball, softball, girls soccer and boys golf — would then move to next summer.

“It allows superintendents to focus on the start of school,” said Cooperative Educational Service Agency District 3 administrator Jamie Nutter, who added that delaying the start of 2020–21 sports “would provide more of an opportunity for a more normal season to occur” if a vaccine becomes publicly available later this year.

The sports proposal is one of several school issues CESA 3 school superintendents meet about Wednesday morning.   

For now, Grant County school districts are generally going ahead on the assumption that sports will begin as scheduled in August. That was until Friday, when Iowa–Grant suspended high school activities, including open gyms and weight room access, “due to COVID-19-related concerns,” according to the Iowa–Grant Facebook page. The post said the school district was hoping to reopen, “but at this time, we are not sure when it will happen.”