MONROE — Just before noon April 21, the WIAA Board of Control voted to cancel the 2020 spring high school sports season.
The announcement hardly came as a shock to many coaches and players, as the state-issued “Safer at Home” order by Gov. Tony Evers has kept schools closed for more than a month.
“I figured that was going to happen,” Monroe softball coach Joe O’Leksy said. “I’m disappointed, especially for all of the seniors.”
The first “Safer at Home” order was announced March 13, the night before the WIAA canceled the remainder of the girls and boys basketball playoffs.
“All the big events were getting canceled — the NBA, college sports tournaments. You just had a gut feeling something was wrong,” said Natalie Leuzinger, a Black Hawk senior. “We saw a tweet (March 12) that the WIAA was having a meeting to discuss keeping the tournament going.”
Black Hawk was hours from playing in the WIAA Division 5 state semifinal when the team was informed its season was over.
“I can’t describe that feeling when coach (Mike) Flanagan came in and told us,” Leuzinger said.
In-person school ended the following week and students around the state have attended school virtually since.
“School, everything from spring sports to graduation — it’s been one big bummer,” Leuzinger said.
‘A glimmer of hope’
While spring season is washed out, the WIAA did pass a 30-day contact option during the summer for spring coaches and players, up from the annual 5-day exception.
“The WIAA left a glimmer of hope for July,” said Eric Jubeck, Monroe girls track and field coach. “But we don’t want to get our hopes too high.”
The 30 days of contact cannot happen during the 2019-20 school year, which ends June 30. Evers’ most recent extension of the “Safer at Home” order closed school buildings and shuttered extracurricular activities, which included spring sports.
Should the governor extend the order beyond June, the 30 days of contact would then be in jeopardy.
“There are a lot of things that could transpire before then,” said Jim Strommen, Pecatonica baseball coach and athletic director. “It’s already been a different scenario that none of us have ever been involved with before.”
Coaches and players could hold practices and competitions should the school approve of actions during July into early August. However, logistics of transportation, officials and other issues would need to be worked out.
“In the month of July and then into August you’ll have kids getting ready for football, volleyball, cross country. I think they’ll be pulled in a lot of different directions,” Strommen said. “Everyone is going to want time for their kids — coaches for their sport, spring or football; and families, because if we’re allowed to open the state back up, families are going to want to go on vacation and get out of the house.”
Players could still compete with both the high school team as well as any club, AAU or other traveling team, like an American Legion-level baseball team.
Joe O’Leksy, Monroe’s softball coach, was already on the phone calling coaches from neighboring schools and others in the Badger Conference in an attempt to gauge interest in a shortened season.
“I reached out and all over the state people are jumping on board,” O’Leksy said. “I’m cautiously optimistic for July 1. It all hinges on what the governor and the state will do.”
Having a “Senior Day” would be a priority, giving teams a chance to honor their seniors who otherwise lost closure to their prep career.
“If we can make it work, we’ll make it work. If we need to wear masks, we will,” O’Leksy said. “In a perfect world we would play 10-12 games. We’d use our high school facilities, high school jerseys and equipment.”
Scott Mosher, Monroe’s boys track and field coach, talked with girls coach Eric Jubeck and others about the idea of using the city’s new Running Club to host a meet or two, giving athletes from all sports from across the region to potentially compete.
“We’ll host meets when they allow us to — whether that means inter-squad or with other schools,” Mosher said. “Maybe it’s a meet where kids from any sport — baseball, track, tennis, golf, softball — any kid competes. Maybe we find out who the faster person in the county really is.”
Jubeck said that the Monroe coaches have liked what they saw not just in the one week of practice in March, but the response from the student athletes during the lockdown.
“All of our kids send us videos of their workouts. If we were to get back into competition, I would put us right up there with anyone. These kids have so much talent, but they have just kept working at it,” Jubeck said. “We were entering the year a favorite to win the regional title again, and for these seniors, that would have made it four regional championships in a row.”
Monroe Athletic Director Jeff Newcomer was trying to keep a level head about the idea of summer competitions in summer.
“I appreciate the attempt the WIAA made for the student athletes to get some closure,” Newcomer said. “I think this is just false hope for the summer. Things are changing (with COVID-19) every other day at this point. We can speculate all we want, but things could certainly change again before we get there.”
Careers end unexpectedly
Chloe Bunker, a Monroe senior, was hoping to qualify for the state meet for the third straight time this spring. She’ll be attending UW-Oshkosh in the fall and plans to compete for on the Titan’s track and field team.
“It’s out of my control,” Bunker said of her lost senior season.
Bunker’s playing career was filled with memorable moments, she said. She played a sport in every season possible ever since she entered high school — volleyball in the fall, basketball during the winter and track in the spring.
“Sports was a big part of my life. I played every season,” Bunker said. “State for basketball, state for track, being homecoming queen this year — those experiences have made for some great memories; and I think they’ve made me a better person and can handle challenges better.”
Leuzinger said she and her teammates expected to compete for not just a conference title, but potentially a trip to state in softball.
“(Defending champion) Belmont graduated a bunch of kids, and we really thought we could give them a run,” Leuzinger said.
Leuzinger will be a preferred walk-on for the Wisconsin Badgers women’s basketball team next season. She said she takes some solace in the fact that she’ll get to compete again, but it won’t be the same without the teammates she’s had by her side since her youth days.
“We built a legacy,” said Leuzinger, a four-year starter and conference player of the year in basketball with just two losses in 105 games on the hardwood. “It hasn’t really hit me yet that this is it. I’ve still got homework and have been attending classes online and we still don’t know when a graduation ceremony will be.”
Monroe’s baseball team wasn’t expected to be a top contender for a conference championship, but Cael Losenegger still was holding out hope to lace up his cleats with his teammates a few more times.
“Talking to my parents, I told them last week that I was holding out hope,” said Losenegger, who will attend the University of Arkansas in the fall. “It’s tough. It started to feel pretty inevitable the longer it took.”
Losenegger also misses out on several of the final highlights of a typical senior year. There will not be a prom, and a graduation ceremony would likely take place late in the summer — if it even happens.
“It makes you realize how impactful school is. You are used to seeing your friends and other people every day, but now our last day of school was in March,” Cael said.
Eric Losenegger, Cael’s father and Monroe’s varsity baseball coach said that the news of the canceled season was not surprising, but he was disappointed he couldn’t have more time to coach his son.
“For Cael as a senior, it’s a double-whammy. And his whole class, I’ve been around them since they were little. This was out of their hands,” Eric Losenegger said. “I appreciate what the WIAA is trying to do with the 30-days of contact. They’ve left a sliver of hope for everyone.”