Milton Football

The Milton football team celebrates a playoff victory during the 2019 season. The fall sports season will likely look different than years past with concerns of COVID-19 still swirling across the state and country.

Last Monday, Milton students learned they will head back to school buildings in the fall — if they so choose — with virtual learning still being an option for all grade levels.

High school students will start the year using a blended hybrid plan. Students will be assigned to A or B groups, based on last name. The groups will alternate days with in-person and virtual lessons

The Madison School District will begin the school year with all-virtual instruction, with schools like Sun Prairie also expected to join.

Newly-hired Milton Activities Director Jeff Spiwak doesn’t see how schools that start the year completely virtually also have sports during that time.

“I don’t see how that’s justifiable in that situation,” Spiwak said. “If a school district is making the determination that it’s not even safe enough to conduct a class face-to-face there is no way it’s safe enough to have athletic competitions or practices. That’s my assumption here. When schools declare they are going virtual they are shutting down their buildings and facilities for the entire time.”

The School District of Fort Atkinson announced it will reopen classrooms this fall while allowing families the choice of either a full-time in-person or virtual learning format for their children.

If there are sports in the fall, the choice for an athlete to attend school virtually will not impact their ability to participate in competition or practice, according to Fort Atkinson Athletic Director Steve Mahoney.

“They will still be able to play because they are enrolled in high school and attending our classes,” Mahoney said. “Absolutely they’ll be able to play.”

For schools like Milton and Fort Atkinson, it’s not so much the school’s reopening plans that controls what will happen to fall sports.

“We’re kind of at the whim of the conference, the WIAA and all these organizations right now as well,” Spiwak said.

So the bigger question for Fort Atkinson, Milton and schools alike might be, what would a high school sports season look like?

The WIAA laid out four different potential plans for high school sports over the weekend.

The four options are:

  • Begin sports as they are currently planned
  • Delay the start of fall sports programs to lineup with the reopening of school on Sept. 1
  • The Southwest plan, which delays fall sports until the spring and moves spring sports into the summer. The winter season then would start the high school sports season
  • Cancel all scheduled athletic programming for now and reassess later in the year if conditions change

Of the four options, Mahoney believes canceling is the least likely to occur.

“I don’t think they will cancel,” Mahoney said. “That just won’t happen.

“There are teams in the state that can play.”

According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, there are counties near the Northern portion of the state that are at low to medium activity levels currently with COVID. Specifically, Rusk County and Langlade County are low activity, while there are also eight Northern-half counties that are medium activity.

Most of South Wisconsin is at high activity, with Vernon and Richland the only two counties near the Southern third of the state that are at medium activity. Jefferson and Rock County are currently high activity.

If the WIAA plans to go ahead with regular scheduling, that means starting fall sports in less than two weeks. Practices and competitions are set to begin by the final week of August.

Delaying sports to Sept. 1 would give schools and the WIAA roughly a month to figure things out.

While some plans seem less likely, others are picking up steam.

“The Southwest (plan) — where they flip — just gained attraction last week,” Mahoney said. “I don’t know how feasible it is to start football when there is snow on the ground. But at least it’s something.”

“For me I want every sport to get in this year,” Spiwak said. “If that’s the only way it’s a feasible option then that’s the direction we need to go.”

Mahoney said he hopes there will be a concrete decision made by early next week.

“This week is going to be a really big week for what happens this fall,” Spiwak said. “We’re two weeks from where football is suppose to start. Just based on being forced to make them, decisions are going to have to be made by the end of the week or early next week. I expect a lot to come out through the course of this week. Hopefully we get a plan in place the whole Badger Conference can support.

“All we’re speaking is conjecture at this point. As soon as we feel like we got something figured out, all the rules change.”

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