High school football in Wisconsin has wrapped up its regular season amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With many schools toggling between in-person and virtual learning, fielding teams and finding opponents wasn’t always easy. But team officials said they’re happy they were able to offer athletes the opportunity to play.
“I think all of us involved feel very fortunate, very blessed to have been able to have a season and allow our athletes to play football,” said Vickie Dahl, athletic director at Mineral Point High School in Iowa County.
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Last year, Mineral Point lost to Mondovi High School in the Division 6 playoffs.
“Everybody knew we were going to have a lot of talent coming back and it would have been very disappointing if this group of kids, this group of players didn’t get a chance to play this year and showcase that talent,” she said.
There were some bumps in the road, Dahl said. The football team missed a couple of games when Mineral Point went all-virtual for a period in October. The school had to reschedule its homecoming for this past Friday, and the game was streamed due to spectator limits.
The school was also able to field volleyball, cross-country and soccer teams this fall.
However, Dahl said it’s important that community members understand their behavior can ultimately impact whether kids get an opportunity to play high school sports.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association launched a social media campaign in August asking Wisconsinites to team up to beat COVID-19 by wearing masks and social distancing.
At Burlington High School in Racine County, football has helped return a sense of normalcy to the school community, said head coach Steve Tenhagen. The team is taking the season one week at a time.
“We’re just appreciative every week,” he said.
Burlington missed one game this season when an opponent canceled after several of their players entered quarantine. At times, similar situations played out across the state, said Wade Labecki, WIAA’s deputy director.
Still overall, the season was a success, he said.
“As we’ve progressed through the season, I’ve been to some games on Friday nights and it’s just great to see the kids playing, and running around and having fun. And it was just fun to see Friday night football again,” Labecki said. “And I think the reaction around the schools that have been able to play have been great.”
He credited players and coaches for following safety precautions, and referees for continuing to officiate games, even though many are older and at higher risk for complications from COVID-19. Communication between athletic directors has also been important this season, Labecki said. Some teams were able to schedule games day of, after their original opponent pulled out.
About 200 football teams are signed up to participate in WIAA’s postseason this year. Instead of crowning state champions, WIAA is sanctioning a two-week regional playoff beginning Nov. 13. The postseason will be all about giving the kids the opportunity to play, Labecki said.
According to a study from Dr. Andrew Watson of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopedics & Rehabilitation, offering high school sports hasn’t come at the expense of public health. The study showed the rate of coronavirus infection in high school athletes was actually lower than the rate of infection in all 14- to 17-year-olds, based on data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. (In a statement, the UW School of Medicine said the study represents the views of the author and not the school.)
Still, many high schools across the state opted not to play football this fall. About 130 teams are expected to participate in a WIAA-sanctioned football season this spring.
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