Let the kids play.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, high school sports in most of The Gazette’s readership area have been shut down.

Late last winter, teams still competing deep into the WIAA basketball season saw their tournaments abruptly halted. Spring sports never got off the ground.

And while roughly 75% of the school districts in the state attempted to play sports this fall, the Big Eight—including Janesville Parker and Craig—as well as the Badger and Rock Valley conferences opted to push their fall seasons to a shortened alternate spring option.

The WIAA has forged on, with fall state tournaments already complete for girls tennis and girls golf. The tournaments are ongoing in volleyball, cross country and boys soccer. And the regular season has passed the midway point in football.

For teams in our area that never saw their fall seasons begin, the official start dates for winter sports practices are now less than a month away. But again they are left wondering if they will have a season at all.

The Big Eight and Badger conferences have announced they will not conduct league seasons or crown champions this winter.

We understand the basis for these decisions. Both conferences include schools in Dane County, where pandemic protocols and health guidelines have been most stringent and many schools have announced there will be no in-person learning until at least January.

Those conferences decided if all members cannot compete under the same circumstances, then conference sports shall not be played. It is disheartening but not unreasonable.

In the fall, Janesville School District athletic officials worked to try and have sports seasons. They reached out to schools around the state attempting to schedule non-conference competitions. When those plans appeared unfeasible and the WIAA offered its alternate fall option, Janesville’s programs eventually went that route.

We encourage Janesville school and athletic officials—and all others in our readership area—to once again explore every possible avenue before making any dire decisions about winter sports.

The release Friday of a research study by the University of Wisconsin includes encouraging findings for those in favor of playing winter high school sports.

UW collaborated with the WIAA to survey Wisconsin high schools “regarding sport reinitiation, COVID-19 cases and risk reduction procedures being utilized during fall of 2020.”

Surveys were completed by 207 schools, representing 30,000 student-athletes in over 16,000 practices and 4,000 games in the month of September.

The findings show case and incidence rates among student-athletes were slightly lower than the rates for all kids ages 14-17 in Wisconsin. They also indicate incidence rates were no different between students-athletes who were learning in-person or virtually, and of the 209 COVID-19 cases among athletes with a known source for the virus, just one was directly attributed to participation in sports.

The study concludes: “Findings suggest that participation in sports is not associated with an increased risk of COVID-19 among Wisconsin high school student-athletes.”

There continues to be an infinite number of questions surrounding COVID-19, and the sports situation should continue to be monitored closely.

But between this study’s findings and examples as close as Walworth County of successful fall sports seasons, we urge school and athletics officials in Janesville and throughout Rock County to find ways to let the kids play.

This editorial from The Gazette's Oct. 23 issue appears courtesy of a weekly editorial round-up from newspapers around Wisconsin compiled by the Associated Press.

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