To play or not play is the question and it is certainly a complicated question when it comes to the fate of the fall sports season. It is a timely topic being tackled by districts statewide before practices begin.
Amery High School Director of Athletics Jeff Fern shared a few scenarios being kicked around by the WIAA during July’s special meeting of Amery’s Board of Education. Prior to doing so, District Administrator Shawn Doerfler told those in attendance that reopening schools this fall and figuring out how to handle athletics, “Has been one of the more difficult topics with this whole picture.”
Doerfler said, “We have fall sports coming up in a matter of three weeks. I am here to tell you fall sports looks different based on the sport.” Different sports have different COVID-19 risk, based on the amount of contact had while participating in the sport. Of the fall sports offered in Amery, football has been given a risk rating of “high” while tennis, soccer and volleyball have been put into the “medium” category. Golf and cross-country have been classified as “low” risk.
The way counties are now classified by the state as high, moderate or low each Wednesday also plays a part in the decision to let a competition take place between schools of various locations. At the current time, all Middle Border Conference (MBC) schools are located in counties considered “high risk” by the state (Polk, Pierce and St. Croix).
If the district chooses to follow WIAA and Polk County Health recommendations, schools in high-risk counties will have less competition. School Board President Chelsea Whitley asked, “So practices will continue along and every game will be tentative based on Wednesday?”
“Correct. Every week is going to look different,” said Fern.
“We are really working with Polk County Health to make decisions in terms of completion. So, if we are considered a high risk county, which we are right now, and we are going to play a team in St. Croix County, we cannot play that game because right now at least one of the schools is considered high risk,” said Fern.
He said MBC athletic directors are meeting July 21 to talk about things. Fern said, “This is a fluid situation. We are really going to rely on Polk County Health.”
“I honestly do not foresee a championship season for fall statewide. To be completely honest I see it being local controlled. But no decisions have been made at this time,” said Fern.
Fern said there is an opportunity to play teams our athletes normally would not. He used football as an example saying if Polk County was considered moderate risk, but was set to play a team in a county considered high risk; a possibility exists Amery could play a Lakeland conference team who also has 11-man football. “We could try to work something out to give our kids an opportunity to play,” said Fern.
He said he has seen different proposals in other areas of the state including the consideration of moving fall sports to the spring and spring sports to the summer. Fern said, “We want to give kids competition. They were robbed of winter championship seasons last year and obviously robbed of their spring season, but how are we going to do this safely?”