MHS moving fall sports to spring

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Middleton football coach Jason Pertzborn is trying to find the positives in fall sports being moved to the spring./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Middleton girls golf coach Becky Halverson led the Cardinals to a WIAA Division 1 state championship in 2019.

Halverson and the Cardinals won’t get the chance to defend that title, though, in 2020.

Middleton boys cross country coach Brian Finnel led his group to a state title in 2019. That was the Cardinals’ second title in three years.

But Finnel’s group won’t have the opportunity for three state championships in four years.

The WIAA Board of Control voted 8-3 on July 23 to attempt to have a fall sports season, although the start dates were delayed due to circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three days earlier, the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District voted to begin the school year with all-virtual learning. The district also determined that sports will not be permitted without in-person schooling.

So, there won’t be fall sports at Middleton High School in 2020. Instead, those teams will try playing a truncated season in March and April, 2021 — some time between the end of winter sports and the beginning of spring sports.

How exactly this will work remains to be seen.

“There still has to be a lot of discussions about how to make this work,” Middleton athletic director Jamie Sims said. “There’s certainly not a perfect solution and I’m sure there will be hiccups along the way. But it’s our job to problem solve and try to come up with ideas to make this work.”

Sports played in the fall include football, boys soccer, girls golf, girls tennis, girls swimming, boys and girls cross country and boys and girls volleyball.

The Big Eight Conference announced on July 21 — two days before the WIAA’s Board of Control meeting — that it wouldn’t hold conference competitions or crown conference champions this fall. At that point, all four Madison schools, Sun Prairie and Middleton-Cross Plains had announced they would begin the academic school year with online teaching. Verona has since said it would do the same.

Those schools also said they would not hold athletic contests if students weren’t allowed in the building for academics.

The Board of Control considered a proposal that was derived by school district administrators from the southwest part of the state that would have sent fall sports to spring and spring to summer. But that proposal never garnered much support.

Instead, the overwhelming majority of the state plans to have fall sports. Middleton — and most of the Big Eight — will sit it out.

“After all the discussion, I think for now the WIAA found the best happy-medium by giving schools opportunities for the fall and spring,” Finnel said. “I like that my kids still get a season this spring and I feel confident that more schools will join the ones from the Big Eight before the dust settles.

“We run outside when it’s 20 degrees in March for track, so it'll be quite similar just with a cross country squad. If the Big Eight didn't cancel, though, we definitely could have held a cross country season and got creative with practices and races.”

Halverson agreed with much of what Finnel said.

“I'm just glad we are still being given an opportunity to have a season, even if we do have to wait until the spring,” she said. “With golf, it is quite a bit different from other sports in that you never have to go inside and you are always over six feet away from one another, so you don't get hit with a golf club. But I understand that they need to do what they feel is best for the district and everyone as a whole.

“The girls are definitely disappointed, but hopeful to be able to play in the spring. They are planning on continuing to golf in as many Wisconsin Junior PGA events as possible this fall.”

Sims said the goal is to keep the dates of winter and spring sports as close to normal as possible, so those sports wouldn’t affected by fall sports moving to spring. Just how that’s going to happen, though, remains unclear.

Boys basketball is the final winter sport with an end date of March 20. Spring sports such as track and field (March 8) and softball (March 15) begin before winter sports even end.

So just how Middleton — and many other Big Eight schools — are going to provide an opportunity for fall sports to have a season is hazy right now.

“If both fall and spring sports occur at the same time this spring, it will produce a lot of challenges and more than the southwest proposal, too,” Finnel said. “Many cross country boys do track, so I think it'll be easier for me to adjust our training.

“But if it's a different case from an athlete and administrative standpoint, this will be total chaos. Kids may have to choose between two sports and that'll hurt all the teams if it's a normal WIAA season in the spring. Of course, then there's lack of space and scheduling. In the end, this might be a nightmare for us.”

Middleton football coach Jason Pertzborn understands there might be immense challenges trying to have a season in the spring. But he was looking at the glass as half full.

“I’m just glad to have clarity,” Pertzborn said. “I hate that it took this long and I’ve been in full panic mode for two or three weeks now, but we finally have some answers.

“And now that we know we’re going to be playing in the spring, there’s a carrot out there for the kids. Put in the work, take care of your grades and we’ll hopefully have a season.

“I told the kids, ‘It’s a one-year deal, so let’s suck it up.’ I went from about 20% of me feeling good about the season to 80%. I think we can make the best of a bad situation.”

As for the rest of the state, the Board determined that girls golf, girls swimming, girls tennis and boys and girls cross country — all considered low-risk by health officials — can begin practicing Aug. 17. Football, boys soccer, and both boys and girls volleyball — which are considered the higher risk sports — cannot begin practice until the week of Sept. 7.

The earliest dates for the first competitions are Aug. 20 for girls golf, Aug. 21 for girls tennis, Aug. 25 for cross country, and girls swimming and diving. The earliest permissible date for the first boys soccer, and boys and girls volleyball contests are Sept. 15. And the first possible football game may be scheduled for Sept. 23 if the first practice is conducted on Sept. 7.

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