What are high school sports really about?
Are they only about winning conference titles and state championships?
Or are they also about representing your community and your school to the best of your ability, creating friendships and giving something back to the community?
It seems like a day doesn’t go by, especially this spring, that a prep conference or high school team isn’t promoting a special event or game to raise funds for a worthy cause.
I was personally involved in two such events this spring — the Badger Conference All-Star Classic boys basketball game and the Madison La Follette vs. Madison Edgewood “Fight for a Cure” non-conference baseball game.
I was proud to serve as a volunteer coach for the Southern Badger Conference boys all-star team that met the Northern Badger Conference all-stars at Monona Grove High School on April 18.
It was a very competitive game, with the South team winning 86-85 in overtime after Monona Grove’s Jack Retzlaff banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer at the end of regulation to send the game to an extra session.
The victory gave some bragging rights to 10 graduating seniors from the Southern Badger schools but, more importantly, money was raised for the Coaches Against Cancer organization that was the recipient of the proceeds from the event, which included a North vs. South All-Star girls game and various skill competitions.
Then, Edgewood hosted La Follette in a non-conference baseball game at the Bishop O’Connor Center May 1, with the proceeds going to the Gilda’s Club of Madison.
The players sold “Pink Out” T-shirts for $10 each and raffle tickets also were sold for various donated prizes to help support Gilda’s Club, which is open to anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer and their families and friends.
“I will admit that it will be a heartwarming and proud moment, as a parent, to know that the in-ground basketball pole and hoop were purchased for the club from proceeds raised by a group of young men playing a competitive but enjoyable game of baseball,” said Terri Grannis, a Madison La Follette parent rep and co-organizer of the event.
“The coaches deserve a ‘job well done’ pat on the back as well. It’s particularly nice to bring that positive attention to our community, the two schools and the teams.”
What made those events special is that student-athletes were able to participate. The basketball game was after the season ended and the seniors’ eligibility had expired, while the baseball game was a school-sponsored event.
However, according to WIAA regulations, track and field athletes are ineligible for any of the fun runs that are sprouting up all over the area this spring.
That is something Edgewood athletic director Chris Zwettler wants changed.
“The fun runs, runs against breast cancer, and other opportunities are coming out in the spring for our kids to run in and help raise money for good causes and also give an opportunity for families to get together for a cause they have together,” Zwettler said at the WIAA’s annual meeting on April 28 in Stevens Point.
“I would like for our track athletes to be allowed to participate in those runs if the coach and athletic director and family would like to do that. I think we should talk about leaving that up to them.”
WIAA executive director Dave Anderson acknowledged the request for discussion of non-school competition opportunities in the spring — for track athletes, in particular — will be added to the agenda for the state-wide area meetings in September.
According to WIAA by-laws, once a student-athlete is in season, he or she can’t compete in an event or competition in that sport with an outside organization or group.
DeForest girls track and field coach Chris Smith said he doesn’t see why an exception couldn’t be made for track and field athletes to run in the community events.
“It’s not a physical or competitive advantage for a kid to do an outside contest like that,” Smith said. “I’m sure from the WIAA standpoint they’re looking at it as, ‘OK, if we allow this for track athletes, then it’s going to be OK for basketball players to play in basketball games during the basketball season.’
“We’ve always talked with our kids and said you can walk or be a volunteer but you can’t run. We have some kids who are interested in doing triathlons during track season but we can’t. I’m not sure if that would be any competitive advantage.”
Zwettler said an Edgewood athlete was recently declared ineligible after competing in a fun run.
“To then have an athlete compete in it and then suspend them for the rest of the track season seems a bit harsh,” Zwettler said. “I want them to look at that.
“I understand them keeping that in during the fall because it’s more of a cross country event like a runner would compete in the fall. But lighten up on the track athlete.”