Jeff Spiwak has been the athletics and activities director for Milton High School for five months.

He has yet to see one Red Hawks game played.

Spiwak is excited to hopefully put that statistic to rest in the next couple weeks.

The Milton School Board on Monday voted 4-3 to allow both athletes and student performers to return to their passions. Brian Kvapil, Rick Mullen and Mike Hoffman voted against the idea.

If all goes according to plan, Milton’s sports teams will be practicing by the start of next week, with an eye on season-opening competitions beginning Jan. 4.

“I think ‘relieved’ is probably the right word,” Spiwak said Monday night. “We can’t overstate the value of extracurricular activities for kids. I’m just glad the board gave us the opportunity.

“We’re excited to get going.”

On Nov. 9, the Milton school board voted 6-1 to hold winter athletics and activities as long as high school students were learning in person. But on Nov. 18, following the Rock County Public Health Department’s return to Phase 1 of its reopening plan, the board voted that all schooling would be virtual through Jan. 15, and sports were suspended indefinitely.

“We had a glimmer of hope, and it was ripped out of our hands after just one morning practice,” Milton girls basketball coach Stacy Skemp said. “So we’re just thankful now for this opportunity.

“Athletes, whether they’re incoming freshmen or seniors, have put in so much time. It’s great to finally give them the opportunity to put all the hard work to practice.

“They (the players) have been watching their friends from neighboring districts all get the chance to compete.”

Rock County continues to be in Phase 1, and school is still slated to continue virtually through mid-January.

But board member Shelly Crull-Hanke spoke Monday in favor of allowing students to return to activities, citing area schools that have had sports and the difference these activities can have on student well-being.

With Milton’s vote to begin winter sports, Beloit Memorial is now the only Rock County high school not competing, though protocols and restrictions differ from district to district.

Spiwak noted during the board meeting the approval of winter sports will not come without challenges--both COVID-related and otherwise.

Programs will need to finalize schedules on somewhat short notice and will play fewer times than a normal season. Spiwak said the goal is 12-game seasons for girls and boys basketball, three dual meets for wrestling, five meets for gymnastics and boys swim, and seven boys hockey games.

Also, with the earlier decision to suspend sports, construction projects began at several Milton athletics facilities. The boys hockey team typically plays out of Stoughton’s rink, which is under Dane County restrictions, and will need to assess its options. All gymnastics meets will be on the road. And some junior varsity basketball games will likely be played at the middle school, Spiwak said.

“We have a lot of work in front of us now,” Spiwak said. “But we’re more than happy to do it to get kids opportunities.”

This week will serve as a planning week for the district and coaches, and the weeks of Dec. 21 and Dec. 28 will serve as practice weeks to meet the WIAA minimum practice requirements.

“We don’t want to jump in unprepared,” Spiwak said. “We want everything organized, especially revisiting mitigation with our players and their families. And we’ve got player registration, impact testing, hydration for wrestlers and WIAA requirements.

“But now we’ve got a tentative timeline.”

And nearly six months after he arrived in Milton, Spiwak just might get to see a game.

--Benjamin Pierce contributed to this report.

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