By Rich Palzewic
GREEN BAY – On Thursday, July 23, like many other interested Wisconsin high school sports fans, athletic directors, coaches, players and administrators, I watched the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association’s (WIAA) three-hour video conference about fall sports.
In a nutshell, it appears high school sports are back, albeit with a few changes and no guarantees they’ll finish – time will tell.
With an 8-3 vote, the WIAA Board of Control opted to begin fall sports with a delay.
None of the 11 board members wanted to cancel the fall sports season altogether.
The three who voted “no” were giving an honest vote based on the region of the state he or she represents.
Practices around the state will begin as early as Aug. 17 and as late as Sept. 7.
Personally, with not having many sports to cover since mid-March, I’m ecstatic to hear youngsters will get the chance to compete this fall and some normalcy will return.
Many things were discussed during the meeting, but the WIAA board members remained calm, looked at many different scenarios and said they will be flexible this school year.
The board acknowledged it doesn’t know for certain what will happen, but it will use information gathered from other states and its own during summer contact days to move forward.
It used the example of Iowa, which held its summer baseball and softball seasons smack-dab in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Things went smoothly, but there were times schools had to pause due to outbreaks, but they were allowed to resume when the situation became fluid again.
The data showed a combined 673 softball and baseball varsity teams participated in Iowa this summer.
Forty-seven teams (seven percent) were affected by COVID-19, while 23 (three percent) had to end their season early.
That means, 630 teams (94 percent) were not affected by COVID-19, and 650 teams (97 percent) finished their season.
Baseball and softball are lower risk than football or soccer, though.
COVID-19 outbreaks are going to happen to some degree, maybe even in Green Bay.
Would Wisconsin officials be happy with Iowa’s numbers? I think so.
You can argue Iowa and Wisconsin are two different scenarios.
Based on their population they are, but it’s a decent example for comparison.
If safety protocols are followed to the best of our ability and student-athletes are honest with themselves and their teams, things can work.
The Green Bay Booyah baseball team and club teams have been playing all summer with no apparent problems – or least ones I’ve heard about.
If schools and athletes cut corners, it could force their seasons to end.
The physical fitness, team camaraderie and mental happiness an athlete gains through sports participation are second-to-none.
The board also reviewed a plan submitted by the southwest part of the state to move fall sports to the spring of next year and then move spring sports to the summer, but like canceling the season, that wasn’t given much thought.
There were too many issues if that switch was made – conflicts with jobs, summer club teams, college commitments, family vacations, facility usage, coaching availability and low participation.
The board was only concerned about finding a start date for fall sports, not whether state tournaments will be held after the season is completed.
In other words, maybe there won’t be state tournaments this fall.
Finally, the board discussed what would happen if fall sports weren’t offered.
Dave Anderson, executive director of the WIAA, said if his organization didn’t offer sports, other entities would come in and swoop athletes up.
In other words, we might be seeing club football or volleyball (not associated with the high school) this fall instead.
Not everyone is happy with the situation.
Some aren’t thrilled with the late start date and others don’t feel there should be sports altogether.
Districts can make their own rules and regulations based on safety guidelines in the area.
Just because the WIAA said fall sports could go forward, it doesn’t mean they will in certain locations.
The Big Eight Conference, which includes the schools in and around Madison, announced it will cancel all conference competitions for all fall sports.
In recent days, school districts in Madison, La Crosse and Wausau announced they would begin the school year with virtual instruction.
While sports technically could be offered in those locations per WIAA rules, it’s unlikely that will occur.
Two weeks ago, I didn’t think I’d get to stand on the sidelines this fall, so at least for now, there’s hope.