When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of Wisconsin high schools in March, spring sports seasons were abruptly cut off — most before they could even begin.
Only track and field coaches were able to get in almost a week of practice before hopes were dashed and hearts were broken by the cancellation of the spring regular season and WIAA tournaments.
When the unprecedented boom was lowered, coaches and student-athletes alike were forced to pivot and adapt, taking workout plans online and spending hours making phone and online contact with individual athletes.
For instance, the Madison Memorial baseball program posted a Tweet on Tuesday to report that 21 student-athletes took part in their online training session on Monday. Coaches in other sports have worked to create individualized workout plans for each of their student-athletes, and hold regular online sessions or make telephone contact to keep the student-athletes engaged.
However, some area schools have decided that if there won’t be spring sports competition, their coaching staffs should not be paid — despite the time they spent preparing for the season and their online organizational work after the seasons were called off.
Many area schools are paying full salaries to spring coaches. In the Madison Metropolitan School District, for instance, spring sports head coaches will receive between $3,133 and $4,754, and assistants are paid between $1,741 and $3,328. Those stipends, of course, are in addition to teaching salaries. Middleton, Sun Prairie and Verona also will pay their spring coaches in full, while expecting the coaches to put in time to manage involvement in online coaching.
Sauk Prairie activities director Josh Boyer said in an email that spring coaches would receive full pay so long as they complete nine free National Federation of High School training courses, create a Google Classroom site to engage in virtual coaching throughout the season, and update and engage student-athletes as much as possible using social media.
Waunakee and Milton also will pay spring coaches in full, and other Badger Conference programs will at least offer pro-rated payments to some coaches.
"Because of the commitment each of our coaches made to supporting our young people, we did not recall those (coaching stipend) agreement letters. Rather, we are honoring the full terms of the agreement," Mount Horeb superintendent Dr. Steve Salerno wrote. "How lucky we are to have leaders like them!"
In the Capitol Conference, Belleville and Cambridge responded by stating their spring coaches would be paid in full, as did Deerfield, of the Trailways Conference.
But, as the Janesville Gazette reported this week, coaches at the two Janesville public high schools won’t receive pay for the spring season. Other schools are paying only a prorated percentage of coaching salaries.
“Since there are no spring sports taking place right now, there are no spring coaching salaries being paid,” Janesville Public Information Officer Patrick Gasper told the Gazette in an email.
Gasper added that even if coaches take the time to set up team Google Classrooms or otherwise assist spring student-athletes in managing workouts, “then it would be voluntary” and unpaid.
“Reedsburg Area High School is paying a prorated rate to spring coaches and activity advisors,” Reedsburg principal Rob Taylor wrote in an email. “This will be based on how much of their season had been in progress on April 17, when we began virtual school days and ended spring seasons. Obviously, some seasons hadn’t yet started, therefore those coaches won’t be paid.”
Beloit Memorial also will pay coaches a pro-rated amount, and Edgerton has not yet reached a decision.
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, 10 Capitol Conference schools, McFarland, River Valley and Deerfield had not yet responded to a State Journal request for information on their coaching pay decisions. It appears at least some of these schools have not yet reached a final decision.
Summer contact off
When canceling the spring tournament series, WIAA executive Dave Anderson also announced that the period for out-of-season coaching contact for spring sports would be extended from five to 30 days, as long as current seniors were included. That period would allow for the possibility of interscholastic competitions. However, most area schools that have made a decision on whether to participate have decided against it.
The Big Eight Conference decided to not hold any competition during the summer period, and Big Eight schools that responded to a survey said they would not participate in the extended contact period.
“We will continue to virtually support and celebrate our spring athletes and all of our students in this unique time,” Sun Prairie activities director Eric Nee wrote.
The Badger Conference will meet as a group to decide on its participation in the summer contact period. The Rock Valley Conference already has decided as a group that its schools will not participate.
The Capitol Conference decided to leave summer participation decisions up to individual schools. Marshall athletic director Matt Kleinheinz wrote that in what was “honestly one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make as an AD,” Marshall High would “forego any type of spring season in July/August and have our kids and families move on to the next chapter of their lives.”
The Southwest Wisconsin Conference will decide as a group on or after its next meeting on June 1, according to Prairie du Chien activities director Sara Godfrey.
Trailways Conference schools are likely to be allowed to decide individually. Madison Country Day activities director Jeremy Clements said a final decision will be reached at a May 12 meeting. Clements said he is polling his school’s families to gauge interest, and final decisions would likely be made on a sport-by-sport basis.
Another Trailways school, Deerfield, hopes to hold some summertime activities for its spring sports athletes.
After initially surveying our athletes (especially the seniors), there does seem to be enough interest to do something in July," athletic director Matt Polzin wrote. "But we would not look to use anywhere near to the full 30 days. I am thinking enough practice to satisfy the minimums, then some games/meets vs Cambridge and other local schools. And, of course, all of that is subject to change depending on what our restrictions are then."
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