At the start of the 2020-2021 school year Marshall High School had the distinction of being the only Dane County public high school holding fall athletics. Now, several other districts across the county are taking part in what some have dubbed ‘the Marshall plan,’ wherein teams are having an athletic season but cannot host any athletic contests and need to abide by gathering limitations set by the county while practicing.

As of Jan. 11, the school districts of Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Verona, McFarland, Monona Grove, Mount Horeb, Stoughton, Oregon, Wisconsin Heights, Belleville and Deerfield had approved competing outside of Dane County.

“The biggest thing is I’m just happy for those kids in those other districts that are getting that opportunity that fortunately our kids have had all along,” said Marshall High School Athletic Director Matt Kleinheinz. “There’s certainly a sense of pride in that we kind of blazed the trail for others to follow, to prove that this could be done … that you could be in the county and find a way to make this work.”

Dane County ADs and parents from other districts reached out to Kleinheinz, asking him to share what the Cardinals were doing to have high school sports. The Marshall athletic director said the district has been “an open book” and willing to share the plan it created in addition to its successes and failures.

In addition to Marshall, Madison Edgewood High School athletics have also been conducted since the start of the school year by going outside of Dane County to practice and compete.

“People outside the county have been gracious enough to open their doors and be willing to help us out, just like we’d like to help these other Dane County schools out by saying ‘Here’s a plan and a path you can take and we think it will work,’” Kleinheinz said. “Every district has its own framework as far as what its protocols are going to be in relation to the virus. Some people asked for our actual plan and then they adjusted it to their needs.”

Kleinheinz expressed pride in the Marshall High School coaches, athletes and families for adhering to the safety protocols that allows the continuation of sports and finding a way to make it work.

The athletic director believes the success at Marshall helped other Dane County school districts recognize high school sports could be conducted as long as teams are willing to face some of the challenges encountered by going out of county for practices and competitions.

Kleinheinz said when talking with peers, he told them one of the biggest challenges they may face in following Marshall’s lead would be finding facilities to host practices and contests. This season, the Cardinals have primarily been using Cambridge High School and Lakeside Lutheran High School in Lake Mills to conduct practices and all of the games are on the road including using the JustAgame Fieldhouse in Wisconsin Dells; Fall River High School allowed Marshall to use its facilities in the fall.

“I called probably close to 30 places looking for gym space and without the cooperation of Cambridge and Lakeside Lutheran, we would have really struggled,” the athletic director said. “We tried to get in every small parochial school gym, every YMCA, anything we could on the western half of Columbia County, Dodge County, Jefferson County… and people stopped renting to outside groups and we understand why people don’t want to open to outside groups.

“We’re just very fortunate to have the opportunities available to our kids.”

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