MHS pushes pause button on winter sports

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By: 
Rob Reischel
For now, winter sports are on hold at Middleton High School — and athletes like swimmer Jack Madoch aren’t sure what the future holds./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus received the eternal punishment of rolling an immense boulder up a hill in the depth of Hades. Every time Sisyphus neared the top, the boulder would roll back down the hill.

Middleton athletic director Jamie Sims can relate.

Winter sports began across the state Monday, and Sims had recently instituted a plan that allowed the Cardinals’ teams to begin practicing. After a recent spike in cases of COVID-19, though, Sims was forced to pump the brakes a bit.

Public Health Madison & Dane County issued Emergency Order #10 Tuesday, which prohibits indoor gatherings of any size. Outdoor gatherings are permitted with 10 people or less, with physical distancing. 

The order began Wednesday and will remain in effect until Dec. 16.

So for now, all sports — and practices — at MHS are once again on hold.

“I have COVID whiplash,” Sims said. “But we’re not going to quit trying.”

Sims has certainly been aggressive in trying to give athletes at MHS some type of a season.

Girls basketball, girls gymnastics and boys and girls hockey all started across the state on Monday. Boys basketball, boys swimming and wrestling are slated to begin Nov. 23.

Sims and his coaches put together plans to give Middleton’s winter teams a chance to practice. Players would have been asked to

• wear masks

• remain socially distanced

• sanitize equipment with regularity

• and take temperature and self-checks prior to entering the gym, among other safety protocols.

For now, though, Middleton’s coaches and athletes are back in a holding pattern.

“We were obviously disappointed that we couldn’t kick off the season, but we also have to realize that this isn’t an easy “go” or “no go” situation,” Middleton hockey coach Dan Truehl said. “Safety has to be front and center in any decision made at this point, and the school district and athletic department is doing a great job of following that premise.”

In addition to in-person games, sports and competitions, group exercise classes, meetings, trainings, movies, events, and conferences are all considered mass gatherings under the new Emergency Order. Indoor mass gatherings of any people who do not live together are prohibited.

Outdoor mass gatherings are limited to 10 people who do not live together, with physical distancing. The previous limit for gatherings was 10 indoors and 25 outdoors, with physical distancing.

“This virus does not spread on its own. We spread it. Every gathering – no matter the size – is an opportunity for disease spread and prolongs the pandemic,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County. “We are hopeful that with the community’s cooperation, we can bring our numbers down and avoid more hospitalizations and deaths.”

Dane County is currently averaging 433 COVID-19 cases per day over a 7-day period, which is more than double the number of cases from a month ago. As of Nov. 17, 174 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in Dane County, including 48 in the ICU. 

Middleton High School hasn’t held a WIAA-sanctioned sporting event since March 7.

Since then, the end of the winter sports season and spring sports were canceled across the state.

The WIAA gave schools the option of playing fall sports or moving them to the spring. Middleton chose the spring alternative, which has no guarantee of happening.

Now, winter sports are back on life support after the latest decision by Public Health Madison & Dane County.

“Our number one priority is the safety of the community,” Middleton boys swimming coach Dan Lynam said. “The last thing we want to do right now is rush into things and make a mistake that contributes to the community spread of COVID. I want everyone to be confident that we are being cautious and thoughtful in our approach.”

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