Wait and see on winter sports at MHS

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By: 
Rob Reischel
Logan Raffel is one of several athletes at Middleton High School waiting to find out if there will be a winter sports season./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

The Big Eight Conference announced on Monday it would not have an official conference winter sports season.

That doesn’t mean winter sports are dead at Middleton High School, though.

Far from.

Although the Big Eight member schools have determined conference competition for winter sports will not occur, in-person practices, games, and workouts may be allowed to occur as adopted by member schools and following public health recommendations.  

On Monday night, Middleton athletic director Jamie Sims said he still hopes to begin winter sports practices as scheduled, in accordance with Public Health Madison Dane County (PHMDC) guidance. Sims was meeting with his winter coaches Tuesday night to discuss plans for getting student-athletes back in the building.

There’s no guarantee Middleton’s teams would be able to play games later this winter. But getting practices going would be a good start to eventually making that happen.

“We hope to create a plan adhering to the guidelines that gets the kids back in the building,” Sims said. “Things may look different than we’re used to, but our goal is to provide an opportunity for the kids.”

The WIAA allows boys hockey, girls hockey, girls basketball and gymnastics to begin practicing on Nov. 16. Boys basketball, wrestling, and boys swimming and diving will start on Nov. 23.

The Middleton-Cross Plains School District is currently conducting all classes virtually. 

Some schools in the Big Eight Conference have announced that they will remain in virtual-only instruction until at least the start of second semester, regardless of PHMDC metrics, and will not have winter sports unless or until they return to in-person instruction. MHS and the District are leaving open the possibility of an earlier return, in accordance with PHMDC reopening recommendations.

MHS will also look to implement the following extracurricular provisions:

• Coaches may begin working out with student-athletes in groups of 10 or fewer indoors or in groups of 25 or fewer outdoors, as the guidance by PHMDC allows and in accordance with WIAA coaching contact rules upon the submission and approval of a coaching contact plan. 

• Coaches may share virtual individual training activities with all students. Coaches must follow WIAA coaching contact rules.

• Fall and spring programs may select to use their optional WIAA allotted coaching contact days. If so, they must adhere to the PHMDC guidelines and receive prior authorization from the MHS athletic director.

• The athletic department will continue to hold twice-a-month virtual learning sessions on a variety of topics with local, state and national sports experts.

Seven of the 10 Big Eight schools are in Dane County, which has strictly enforced some of the strongest COVID protocols. The WIAA moved many of its fall sports state championship events outside of Dane County as a result. The Madison school district announced Monday it will not have in-person winter athletics through at least Jan. 24.

In its release, the Big Eight said: “For the 2020-21 school year if all member schools are not able to participate fully in conference contests during season dates as scheduled, Big 8 Conference competitions will not be held and conference champions will not be named.

“All schools will be supported in their local decisions and may have the option to schedule non-conference competitions in any sports during adopted season dates but not to displace conference competitions if offered, so long as they follow the guidance of the WIAA and local public health officials.”

The Big Eight Conference already shifted its fall sports to the WIAA’s shortened spring schedule. No teams in the conference have played any competitions — including non-conference events — this fall.

Middleton is hoping it can offer its student-athletes more opportunities this winter, though.

“I’m doing everything I can and trying to work with the coaches to make it happen,” Sims said. “I’m trying to take as much heavy lifting as I can from them. Hopefully we can make it happen.”

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