WIAA Sports Season Changes: Local Administrators, Athletic Directors, Coaches Discuss Impact

Marshfield (OnFocus) – The WIAA’s announcement on Friday that a spring window now exists for an alternative to fall sports seasons provided additional directions for Wisconsin schools as they head into the 2020-21 schoolyear.

The change, which creates a window from late February into mid to late April, allows schools to move their fall sports season if they so choose.

The ramifications of the changes are still being studied, and we contacted area administrators, athletic directors, and coaches to get their thoughts on the changes.

WIAA Annunces Sports Season Changes

“We are still trying, as a school and conference, to navigate through the new information. I do believe that the new spring option for fall sports will provide options to those schools that are not able to run their fall seasons and also allows for specific sports that are not allowed to run or get cancelled due to an outbreak of COVID, an opportunity for a season,” said Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln Athletic Director Chris Feidt.

Taking time to study the changes is a common theme in comments we obtained.

“We are appreciative that the WIAA is attempting to provide options for HS student athletes to compete,” shared Athens Athletic Director Craig Dederich.

“We will be meeting next week with the other  conference schools to get everyone’s input about the options available to us,” said Neillsville School District Administrator and Head Girls Baskeball Coach John Gaier.

“It is important that districts and conferences have flexibility as we all navigate the upcoming school year and sports seasons,” Marshfield Athletic Director Nathan Delany shared. “All options will be discussed in the coming days.”

“We have not yet officially met administratively to determine if we are going to try it in the fall or spring but would anticipate giving fall a try. However, our first concern is the health and safety of our students and having students in the seats at school,” said Abbotsford Principal and Baseball Coach Ryan Bargender.

Having the flexibility for student athletes  to compete in the event fall sports will not occur is a big plus with the proposed changes.

“I believe today showed the desire to be flexible and find meaningful opportunities for kids to participate in their desired sports,” Delany explained.

Bargender agreed.

“Overall, the plan provides a flexible opportunity for student-athletes to compete. As principal, my first concern is beginning the school year as normal as possible with students in the building. I am a big believer that extra-curricular activities, whether it be athletics/clubs/music, are great for kids and teach life long lessons. Providing these opportunities also motivate some students to do better in school and assist with their mental health,” Bargender said.

Bargender went on to add that moving fall sports to the spring may have a major downfall, however.

“I am hopeful that fall sports are able to happen as scheduled in the fall and not have to be played in spring. There is a lot of overlap between the fall and spring sports if fall is played in the spring. At a small school like Abbotsford, we cannot afford to have kids choose a sport. We need them all out for three sports and encourage them to be three sport athletes.”

The announcement helped clarify options for schools and served as  a positive ray of sunshine for teams. Stratford Head Football Coach Jason Tubbs was glad to hear the news.

“I am happy for my seniors who might get a chance to play football this fall.”

The creation of a window in the spring to play sports has its pros and cons.

“With the thought process of not knowing what the fall of 2020 will be for school attendance and sports, we might entertain playing fall sports next spring,” Dederich shared.

“There is no chance of us playing spring football,” Tubbs added. “We have too many athletes playing a spring sport in our small school.”

The schedule changes also include pushing back the start of the spring sports season, which includes spring sports concluding in June. Bargender noted that may provide a conflict for players and teams.

“As a head baseball coach, I understand being flexible but am concerned about the possible overlap in the spring as well as baseball being played in June. Some kids will choose to play their travel baseball or Legion programs over their high school programs. Kids will also go on vacation or have military commitments in the summer.”

Feidt explained districts and conferences have many options to consider, all in the interest of doing what is best for kids.

“At this point, as a district and conference, we are looking at all options to give our student-athletes the most opportunity to participate.”

Gaier noted the WIAA’s decision allows conferences to work together for a solution that works for its schools.

“I believe today’s decision by the WIAA really leaves scheduling decisions in the hands of conferences with guidance from county health departments,” Gaier explained. “I don’t believe it is feasible for any individual district to go out and try to do something without their conference being involved.”

The changes will take time to digest of course, and here at OnFocus, we’ll monitor how districts approach the flexibility provided by the WIAA. Bargender seemingly summed up the thoughts of  coaches, athletic directors, and administrators everyone with his view.

“Much like coming back to school, there is no perfect answer. No matter what the WIAA decided to do there would be people upset. The WIAA Board of Control has a difficult task and tries to do what is best for their members. Coaches will need to be flexible regarding the sharing of kids, especially in smaller districts.”

“The ultimate goal is to try to offer all kids an opportunity to participate in their sports, whenever it is safest to do so.” Gaier added.

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David Keech
Author: David Keech

David Keech is a math teacher in Wisconsin Rapids and public address announcer for Abbotsord High School. He officiates basketball, baseball, and softball in central Wisconsin. He has reported on amateur sports since 2011, known as 'KeechDaVoice.' David can be reached at [email protected]