MONROE — After the WIAA Board of Control decided July 23 to push back the start of the fall sports season into two separate phases, reaction was instant from across the state.
“I think that the pushing back of the season is what had to be done,” said Tyler Matley, a Monroe senior football player. “Personally, I wanted to start as soon as possible but at the end of the day you have to think of the bigger picture and understand that certain people have family members or even siblings that are at a higher risk of getting the virus.”
Football practice was scheduled to begin Aug. 4, but now will wait more than a month, with first practices Sept. 7, after school has started. Football, soccer and volleyball were considered “higher risk” sports for spreading COVID-19 due to each sports’ necessity for players to be in close proximity to one another, especially while exerting themselves in athletic activity. Swimming, tennis, golf and cross country were deemed “lower risk” because the physical contact rate of the athletes is all but zero and are set to begin practice Aug. 17.
“My hope is that we can have cross country in the fall, even though I know it will look much different than it normally would,” said Scott Mosher, Monroe’s cross country coach. “With the ‘low risk’ sports I think we can put safety measures in place to make them incredibly safe. It really comes down to spacing, which means if we compete, we would need fewer teams participating.”
Mosher said there are a variety of ways the low-risk sports should be able to adapt — from social distancing to face masks to smaller meets.
“I’ve heard options of kids wearing gaiters that can be pulled up over their nose and mouth for the start of races when they are grouped together, pulling them down when they get spread out, and then pulling back up once they get to the finish chute and are around people again,” he said. “I just ordered some for myself to test out, and hopefully that can be an option if needed. We’ve also talked about options like staggered starts, larger or separate starting lines, finishing chutes for each team, etc.
“Ultimately it has to be safe, and I think we can accomplish this. I also completely realize that there is so much going on that sports are not on the top of everyone’s priority list and would understand if we don’t have any fall sports.”
The WIAA is taking much of a hands-off approach this school year. Executive Director Dave Anderson said in the live-streamed special meeting July 23 that he just wants to see student-athletes get a chance to compete. One of the options is to allow schools to push winter sports to the spring or even summer if they so choose, in what is called the “Southwestern Plan,” a proposal by a group of 31 southwestern Wisconsin school districts, titled CESA-3, that prompted the July 23 meeting.
The proposal didn’t pass in the special meeting, but it did leave the door open for any and all schools that choose to go that route.
“They also left lots of flexibility, which ultimately means the choice will come to local control with all sports,” Mosher said. “We (Monroe) still don’t have an official plan in place because things change so quickly. I could see the high-risk sports being moved to the spring.”
Dane County is one of the most affected in the state, and many schools will be continuing virtual learning to try to minimize the spread. The Big Eight Conference, which consists of Madison, Janesville, Middleton and Sun Prairie schools, opted to cancel all fall conference schedules, leaving the door open for only nonconference events. Middleton later canceled its fall sports season entirely.
“With many Badger Conference schools being in Dane County where school will be conducted virtually, I think that no matter what happens it will look much different than normal,” Mosher said.
In an email, Monroe-New Glarus swimming coach Kendra Kalvin said that one of the big challenges her team faces this season is the pandemic, and not the competition from other teams. She and assistant coach Rachel Root are responsible for athletes from two separate schools, with practice beginning Aug. 17.
“Like all other sports, the biggest challenge will be how to safely compete and practice with considerations to COVID-19. Some of the best parts of the swim season are the meets, tournaments and opportunities you have to connect with your teammates — for example, on the rides home from meets,” Kalvin said. “If competitions are canceled, we will need to be creative to make sure this is still a priority and find a way to do this safely.”
Mosher said that his team has stayed focused this summer and kept up with its workouts in hopes of being ready for that first race — whenever it might be.
“I’ve been so impressed with my runners this summer. They seemed as driven as ever to work hard and put in the miles needed to be successful,” he said. He also had concern for the continued enthusiasm of his runners if Monroe followed the Southwest Plan. “I also have concerns with the South West plan because it would put Cross Country and Track in back-to-back seasons and not give distance kids a break in training.”
Matley said he would be fine with whatever decision Monroe makes, as long as he and his gridiron brothers can suit up.
“Whether we play in the fall or spring we just have to keep grinding and getting better every day and always be ready for when that first game finally rolls around,” Matley said. “The pushing back is not the end of the world and as long as we get to have a season, the seniors especially will not care when that season starts.”
Matley is undecided on where he plans to attend in college in 2021. The Monroe running back/defensive back has interest from five schools from across the Midwest, including an offer from Loras College in Dubuque. Wherever he goes, he plans to study biology.