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Changing COVID-19 landscape causes difficulty for decision-makers when considering fall sports

Changing COVID-19 landscape causes difficulty for decision-makers when considering fall sports


The rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and general uncertainty about the best steps to take have made predictions difficult for what large-scale high school activities and athletic events might look like in the fall.

“In terms of the return of school activities, this is a fluid situation that makes any attempts in predicting what things will look like in terms of sports, let alone school, nearly impossible,” Verona athletic and activities director Joel Zimba wrote in an email Tuesday.

“All I can say is that the health and well-being of our students, fans, and community is a number one priority, and we will abide by all government and health restrictions to keep all parties safe. All levels of sports (high school, college, and professional) are struggling to navigate these decisions at the moment.”

Zimba’s comments came in response when asked about remarks from Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction deputy state superintendent Michael Thompson, who also serves as a liaison to the WIAA.

Thompson in an interview with WMTV Channel 15 (NBC15) in Madison said indications are “that learning in the fall will look very different” in Wisconsin schools and that it will take time for schools to return to what they were prior to the coronavirus outbreak.

When asked about whether school activities, which includes sports, will be the same when schools reopen, he indicated in the report that people shouldn’t hope everything immediately will be the same.

He added about large-scale school events (such as large gatherings at pep rallies and games): “Speculation is, I see that coming back when we have a vaccination for this particular virus.”

Asked for his reaction to Thompson’s remarks about athletics, Madison Memorial athletic director Jeremy Schlitz wrote in an email Tuesday: “I appreciate the guidance from the medical community, DPI, and the WIAA as we navigate what the fall could potentially be for school and sports and we will be prepared to support student-athletes with or without contests and look forward to the time when we will be able to safely compete and gather again.

“I believe the school component and what is safe for all students and staff, and our communities, is the priority to concern ourselves with at this time from an education and education-based athletics perspective, so appreciate the insight he shared on DPI's current position.”

Schlitz also serves as the Madison school district athletic director. 

WIAA communications director Todd Clark wrote in an email: "We are in constant contact with Mike Thompson of the Department of Public Instruction with his liaison role on the WIAA Board of Control. It is our interpretations of Mike’s comments that there are various scenarios being considered, but specific direction to be taken has not yet been determined."

Schools in the state are currently closed through the school year (June 30), with virtual learning taking place.

In the NBC15 report, Thompson said the DPI is working on recommendations for reopening schools to give to legislators and he hoped for a return to things being as normal as possible. But he said, "I think we are going to have to prepare for varying types of learning models going into the fall.”

Due to concerns about public safety during the pandemic, the WIAA ended the girls and boys basketball seasons prematurely in March and last month canceled spring sports competitions and state tournaments.

The WIAA Board of Control has a meeting scheduled this Friday. It didn’t make any determinations about fall sports at its April meeting.

Further insight about summer contact for student-athletes for next school year should be forthcoming.

More information needs to be revealed for decisions to be made about school in the fall, including what is best for potentially holding in-person schooling and then possibly athletics.

School districts have control on how they will reopen schools or if all or some classes will remain online.

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Jon Masson covers high school sports for the Wisconsin State Journal. He has covered a variety of sports — including the Green Bay Packers and Wisconsin men's and women's basketball and volleyball — since he first came to the State Journal in 1999.

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