Middleton's lengthy wait comes to an end

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
After a 16-month hiatus, Middleton’s football team held its first practice of the 2021 season Monday night./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Nov. 1, 2019.

That was the last time Middleton’s football team took the field together — until Monday night.

Finally, after a topsy-turvy 16 months — one in which COVID-19 hit, the Cardinals postponed their fall season, and their spring season hung in the balance — Middleton was back at Otto Breitenbach Stadium. And there was nowhere else coach Jason Pertzborn and his team would have rather been.

“It was just great,” Pertzborn said after Middleton’s first practice of the alternate-fall season ended. “The energy of the kids was unbelievable. They were just jacked to be out there, running around.

“From freshmen to seniors, it just felt different. I felt like our camaraderie was better than it’s ever been. Everyone was happy and really enjoying the moment.”

For the better part of a year now, Pertzborn wondered if this moment would ever come.

It was this exact week last year when the WIAA canceled the remaining games in the girls and boys state basketball tournament. Shortly thereafter, spring sports were canceled, as well.

The WIAA proceeded with fall sports — and also gave schools the option of postponing those sports until the spring. Middleton picked the fall-to-spring plan, but Pertzborn & Co. were left in limbo for several months as Dane County kept things locked down.

“It was a really stressful time,” Pertzborn said.

Pertzborn was one of the area’s most outspoken leaders in the fight to get the athletes back on the field. Finally in early January, Middleton athletic director Jamie Sims and Superintendent Dana Monogue gave winter sports the green light to begin. That also ensured the fall to spring sports season would take place.

“I did all I could and I just said what I felt,” Pertzborn said. “I tend to become a lightning rod, but I said what I believed. I did a lot of research and followed the science and the data, and what it came down to was I was just asking for common sense.

“The rest of the state was playing and proving it could be done. Then our superintendent helped get Dane County Health to start seeing the big picture and things started to change.”

A change for the better, which brought the Cardinals to the practice field Monday night.

The average high temperature in Madison on March 8 is 38-degrees, which would have made football practice more than a bit chilly. Instead, the football Gods were smiling on the Cardinals — and the rest of the teams across the state — as temperatures reached the lower-60s.

Pertzborn and his staff passed out equipment, then conducted a two-hour practice without pads. Players worked on blocking sleds, form tackling, caught passes, ran routes, and were in seventh heaven throughout.

“We waited a long time for this,” Pertzborn said. “It was awesome.”

Middleton will begin practicing in pads on Saturday. And the Cardinals’ first game will be March 26, when they host Beloit Memorial.

Middleton will play seven regular season games, including home-and-home series with Verona, Sun Prairie and Beloit because the Madison schools opted out of playing this spring. It remains unclear what the postseason will look like, if there’s a postseason at all.

While this season will look different than any other in MHS history, Pertzborn wants it to be a memorable experience for his team — especially his seniors.

“While we’re just happy to be playing ball, the seniors don't just want to go out and play,” Pertzborn said. “They want to win and we want to win, and we want to make sure this isn't a bad experience for them.

“We have the opportunity to get a lot of kids better in the next two months. And ultimately, we want to win as many football games as we can and that’s what we’re striving to do.”

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