Student-athletes, coaches, parents and fans were given some certainty last week as the WIAA Board of Control (BOC) approved the 2020 fall high school sports season start date for volleyball, tennis, swimming, soccer, cross-country, golf and football.

That decision didn’t come easy, or without a lengthy and involved discussion during Thursday morning’s special board meeting that was held virtually and streamed live online.

In an 8-3 vote, the BOC approved a motion by Stratford Superintendent of Schools Scott Winch to start practice for the “low-risk” sports of girls golf, girls tennis, boys and girls cross-country and girls swimming the week of Aug. 17, followed by the “high-risk” sports of football, boys and girls volleyball and boys soccer the week of Sept. 7.

The move also gives schools the option to push fall sports into the winter, spring or summer should they choose, or not compete at all without penalty.

The approved schedule put area athletic directors into full motion, including Brian Margelofsky at North­land Pines, who said he plans to meet July 27 with conference athletic directors to discuss scheduling options.

This is all contingent on in-person learning beginning Sept. 1.

“Our goal from day one of planning the return to school was always to have the students back in our building for face-to-face learning,” said Margelofsky. “Coaches and athletes have followed the set of guidelines established for July contact days and morning ‘plyos’ without any problems. We will continue to take a careful approach so that we can provide physical co-curricular activities at Northland Pines.

“We recognize and support the importance of sports and activities to our students for both their social and emotional well-being too.”

Margelofsky said following Monday’s meeting a schedule for all fall sports would follow. He was unsure if Pines would play a full schedule, or limit to just conference and regional play. With seven schools in the Great Northern Conference (GNC) residing in six different counties it may make travel to other communities difficult.

“Many schools/conferences are going to conference games only — no nonconference games,” he said. “Others are going to a regional approach where you only play opponents in a certain radius of your school. Our administration has briefly discussed, and will continue to have dialogue on this topic. No decision has been made by the GNC or Northern Lakes Conference on this topic yet.”

The approved motion during last Thursday’s BOC meeting came on the heels of a failed motion by Wauwatosa Superintendent Phil Ertl, who represents southeastern Wisconsin, which would have had the high-risk sports starting Aug. 24 and the others Aug. 17.

That amendment to Winch’s first motion failed on a 7-2 vote.

Board members agreed that with the start date moving away from Sept. 1 and the start of either in-person or virtual learning for students allowed for more separation in tasks for school officials.

WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson said it was his opinion that local control in this issue was important.

“This is a year where we need to do our best to find a way,” said Anderson. “We can make whatever the board determines fit onto a calendar. We can build any calendar to fit anything.”

Prompting the meeting was a plan from superintendents in southwestern Wisconsin which called for a switch of seasons, moving 2020 fall sports to spring of 2021, and then sliding those spring sports into the summer season.

In the end the BOC considered a number of season schedule models and resolved to maintain fall interscholastic opportunities with a delayed start, as well as an alternate opportunity for schools unable to start and administer the traditional fall season, at its virtual special meeting. 

“Because of the board’s action, while they can’t make any guarantees that things will work out as we plan them, they have given us the opportunity to at least hope and work in that direction,” Anderson said. “We understand this decision will make some happy and others disappointed, but we will do our best to deliver to our membership what they have directed us to do.”

The earliest dates for the first competitions are Aug. 20 for girls golf, Aug. 21 for girls tennis, and Aug. 25 for cross-country and girls swimming and diving. The earliest permissible date for the first boys soccer, and boys and girls volleyball contests are Sept. 15, and the first possible football game may be scheduled Wednesday, Sept. 23, if the first practice is conducted on Sept. 7.

The end of the fall sports seasons remained unchanged, but the board indicated the season may or may not culminate with a traditional tournament series. The length and beginning of the tournament series will be determined in the coming days. In addition, the winter and spring season calendars were not altered.

Another component of the board’s decision provides schools which are unable to start fall sports in 2020 an opportunity in the spring to conduct their fall seasons.

The board directed the executive staff to develop details and calendars for an alternative three-sport season in the second semester of the 2020-’21 school year to be presented at a later date. The alternative three-sport season plan was derived from a proposal submitted to WIAA executive staff by school district administrators from the southwest area of the state. 

The board also approved an executive office social media initiative to promote and encourage safe practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

The #TeamUpToBeatCOVID campaign will launch this week in efforts to enhance the likelihood of returning to school and school activities by following safe practices. The WIAA encourages school and public involvement and interaction in the campaign on all Facebook, Instagram and Twitter platforms.

The board was informed of a staff initiative to enhance the “Games Wanted” form on the WIAA website to provide schools with a convenient, comprehensive and user-friendly method of locating opponents and dates available due to postponements and cancellations.