Over the past several weeks, the upcoming fall sports scene has been all over the map with a “will they or won’t they” play discussion. Regardless of what the WIAA decided (or punted on), it is a no-win situation.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip America due to a wide failure of leadership, less meaningful line items, like youth sports, have had a big ol’ question mark around them.
Despite scientists far and wide fearing of a brutal second wave (in addition to the normal flu season) for this fall, a lot of leagues have decided to continue with their schedules as planned. Schools in the south opened, only to close within days due to large outbreaks. Colleges, like Notre Dame and North Carolina, among others, shuttered schools or paused practices. Not only did the WIAC shutter fall sports for Wisconsin’s NCAA Division III colleges, the NCAA itself cut off everything but football. The Big Ten and PAC-12 postponed their football seasons, instead opting to find time to hold a season as early as January.
Illinois and Minnesota opted to alter their schedules, with Illinois bumping all of fall sports into a truncated late-winter, early-spring window.
But the WIAA left its member schools to decide for themselves.
On the surface this looks like a smart decision, as local control would have more direct information to make up their own plans.
Without canceling fall tournaments entirely, the WIAA has already acknowledged that state championships or playoffs are not likely to happen. What’s worse, by leaving the decision-making process to local control, you get mass hysteria — or at least mass confusion. Entire conferences have shifted their sports, as have other schools. Some conferences, like the Six Rivers, split the difference, while some schools, like Darlington, have opted to continue as if the largest pandemic in a century isn’t happening.
This is a scheduling nightmare, and it runs the risk of getting shot out of the sky the moment an outbreak inevitably occurs.
“But the WIAA is allowing teams to still switch to the spring if that happens, Adam,” people may say. Sure, that’s true, but it would be nice if just one governing body seemed to actually lead.
This pandemic stinks to high heaven for everyone. Kids are not excluded. Sports in high school were the thing I looked most forward to, so I can sympathize with today’s prep athletes pretty easily. But school is also about learning some life lessons, and learning to live in a crazy world. Sometimes you can’t play all of the games in a season because it snows into May or it rains every day for a month. Sometimes the weather is beautiful but a global pandemic is occurring. It stinks, but sometimes something has to give. In the grand scheme of life, sports are pretty unimportant.
The WIAA listened to a presentation on mental health of students during the pandemic — and studies far and wide show it has affected humans of all ages mentally, adding to depression and suicidal thoughts. This is scary, this is real; these things are creeping higher and higher into the forefront of our social conscious than ever before.
Is it worth risking physical health of not just students and coaches, but their families or classmates? The U.S. and Canada are the only major countries in the world with organized high school sports. In Europe, youth play club levels. There is no college sports season to wallow over, so they didn’t have to plan for this. But the WIAA did, and they punted. The fall season should 100% have been moved to the late winter/early spring all the way back in July. There’s still a chance we lose on the winter season, or heck, even the entire school year.
I don’t want that. Prep sports is my livelihood, and honestly, it’s the fun part of my job. But adults have to make adult decisions and lead. And sometimes that means we all have to step back for two or even six months and just watch a bunch of Netflix from our homes.
But we can’t, because apparently everywhere can’t pause all at once. At least, not in America. That’s why we are No. 1 — the country with the most cases, and deaths, of COVID-19 in the world. More than all of Europe combined. In fact, there are 400% more cases than all of the continents of Europe and Oceania according to the World Health Organization - and more than twice as many active cases. The 180,000 death count in the United States in the past six months is more than in all wars since World War II combined.
All of Asia, with more than half of the world’s population, has less than half of the active cases of the United States, with nearly 60% of those cases coming from India, the second most-populated country in the world.
Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, etc. — all have basically gone back to “normal daily life” with limited exposure. They don’t even have to wear masks anymore.
Oh wait, I forgot, Australia is in the middle of a resurgence of COVID-19. New Zealand, too. Their combined average of 200 new cases per day over the last few weeks have the two main Oceania countries with 30 million people total closing down cities and regions left and right for fear of mass spreading. It’s the same strategy from six months ago, and it appears to be working again. For reference, Wisconsin has averaged more than four-times the daily new cases of those two countries over the past month with less than 1/5 the amount of people. That’s a rate of 20x more per day as compared to total population.
But yes, let’s send our kids back to school and play sports. It sounds like the smart thing to do right now. Or at least the convenience of lying to ourselves.
— Adam Krebs is a mask-wearing reporter for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.