Outlook bleak for winter sports

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Jack Madoch and Middleton’s boys swimmers were able to start practicing again recently./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It’s been said practice makes perfect.

If that’s the case, the athletes at Middleton High School should be a fine-tuned group if they’re ever allowed to have a winter sports season.

Public Health Madison & Dane County issued Emergency Order #11 on Dec. 16, and that order will be in effect for 28 days.

The order mirrors much of the previous Order #9 and allows indoor gatherings of up to 10 people, with physical distancing and face coverings. It also allows outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people, with physical distancing.

The health order is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At Middleton High School, that means winter sports teams will be allowed to gather for small group practices once again. Because the order extends into mid-January, though, the chances of winter sports competitions looks bleak.

“It doesn’t look good,” Middleton athletic director Jamie Sims said. “There might be a chance for the low-risk sports like swimming and gymnastics. But it would be tough to have a season with the other sports.”

Girls gymnastics and swimming resumed practices Monday.

Boys basketball, girls basketball, wrestling and boys hockey will start up after the holiday break.

The overwhelming majority of the state is already holding winter sports competitions. While there have been some hiccups — such as the need to re-schedule some events due to either COVID or quarantining — the competitions are largely going off without incident.

By the time Order #11 ends on Jan. 13, though, it appears unlikely schools like Middleton can salvage a winter sports season.

The postseason for winter sports begin on the following dates:

• Boys swimming: Jan 30 — sectionals; Feb. 6 — state tournament.

• Boys hockey: Jan. 30 — regionals; Feb. 6 — sectionals; Feb. 11-13 — state tournament.

• Boys and girls hockey: Feb. 2-5 — regionals; Feb. 9-13 — sectionals; Feb. 18-20 — state tournament.

• Girls basketball: Feb. 9-13 — regionals; Feb. 18-20 — sectionals; Feb. 25-27 — state tournament.

• Boys basketball: Feb. 16-20 — regionals; Feb. 25-27 — sectionals; March 4-6 — state tournament.

• Gymnastics: Feb. 18-20 — sectionals; Feb. 26-27 — state tournament.

In addition, the alternate fall-to-winter sports season is scheduled to start as early as Feb. 15 for some sports.

If Middleton began competitions as soon as Order #11 ended, it would have as little as two weeks of regular season action in some sports. And that’s a best-case scenario.

Sims and several Dane County athletic directors met with Public Health Madison & Dane County on Dec. 17. PHMDC told the AD’s that even when Order #11 ends, they didn’t expect the stringent restrictions to be loosened.

If that’s the case, it will be a death knell for winter sports.

“We were definitely hoping for some better news,” Sims said.

The lone bright spot is Middleton was allowed to begin small practices again.

PHMDC had issued Emergency Order #10 on Nov. 17, which prohibited indoor gatherings of any size. Winter sports, which had just begun at MHS, were immediately halted.

But with COVID numbers throughout the county improving, PHMDC issued Emergency Order #11, which allowed MHS athletes to begin gathering again in small groups.

“The number of people being diagnosed with COVID-19 in the recent weeks has fallen significantly, and for that we are thankful, but our burden of illness is still very high and hospitalizations are high,” said Janel Heinrich, Director of Public Health Madison & Dane County. “We ask that everyone continue to limit gathering with others for the health and safety of the community.”

When Order #10 was issued, the seven-day case average was 487, and 158 people were hospitalized with COVID-19. Today the seven-day case average is 171 and there are 135 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

“It has been 315 days since the first case in Dane County,” said Satya Rhodes-Conway, City of Madison Mayor. “We said from day one that our response would follow the data, and we are doing that today. We hope the decline in new cases will soon be mirrored in a decline in hospitalizations, but we will remain vigilant and watch these developments closely.”

The previous order was in place for 28 days and subsequent orders will continue to be issued in 28 day increments to include two incubation periods of COVID-19 illness and respond to the latest local data.

“We appreciate that Public Health Madison & Dane County uses local data to guide community requirements. We support the nuanced and data-driven public health orders issued by Public Health, and the leadership they continue to show during this pandemic. Though our data are improving, we are not out of the woods yet. We continue to ask everyone in Dane County to take every precaution to keep themselves, their friends, neighbors and loved ones well,” said Jerry Halverson, MD, Chair of the Board of Health.

A summary of provisions in Order #11 include:

• Allows indoor gatherings of up to 10 people (not including employees), with physical distancing and face coverings.

• Allows outdoor gatherings of up to 25 people (not including employees), with physical distancing.

• Businesses continue to be limited to 50% of approved building capacity and must have written cleaning and hygiene policies in place.

• At restaurants, indoor dine-in capacity is still limited to 25% of approved seating capacity levels, with physical distancing between parties. Individual tables must all be from the same household or living unit but are no longer limited to 6 or fewer people. There are no other changes.

• Indoor seating at taverns continues to not be allowed; customers may enter taverns only to order, pick-up, and pay for food or beverage.

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