Author Topic: Things to know about HS sports and WIAA postseason as COVID-19 surge continues  (Read 371 times)

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Offline TomM

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6 things to know about high school sports and the WIAA postseason as COVID-19 surge continues

Dane County continues to see new COVID-19 records for cases and hospitalizations during a crushing fourth wave of the pandemic, spurred on by the highly contagious omicron variant. While teams in the area and statewide have paused for stretches for COVID health and safety protocols during the winter season, high school sports generally carry on in the Madison School District and much of Wisconsin even as Madison and other school districts have been hit by positive cases.

Here are the latest updates on how high school sports are being impacted and what administrators and the WIAA are paying attention to:

What’s the situation in Madison schools and Dane County?
From Jan. 3-9, COVID-19 cases more than doubled in the Madison School District to 703 on Wednesday. The district has around 26,000 students and 5,000 staff members.

There have been 2,184 total cases this school year in the district, meaning that one week stretch accounts for nearly a third of that total. In the last 14 days, 626 students and 328 staff members have tested positive. There have been 1,196 close contacts reported in the last two weeks.
All four high schools reported between 70 and 98 cases. District spokesperson Tim
LeMonds told the State Journal the increase in cases came during winter break when
students weren’t in school. No school or classroom closures have occurred since the
district went back to in-person learning Monday.
Dane County set more records Wednesday, with a pandemic-high 202 hospitalized patients and 2,257 new cases. The previous highs were set a day prior. The Madison School District announced Wednesday it is reducing the quarantine time for students, teachers and staff who test positive from 10 to five days, following new federal guidelines. That will take effect Tuesday.

How have Madison athletics been impacted?
The district has not suspended athletics this season as a fourth wave of cases, spurred by the omicron variant, has hit Dane County and Madison. Neither have any other surrounding school districts.

Practices and competitions have been able to continue with increased monitoring and
mitigation, but COVID-19 postponements are being addressed on a team-by-team
basis at Madison East, Madison La Follette, Madison Memorial and Madison West, according to Madison Memorial athletic director Jeremy Schlitz, who’s also the district athletic director.
Several teams in the district recently postponed games because of health and safety protocols, Schlitz told the State Journal on Jan. 6 — that list at the time included East boys and girls basketball;
La Follette boys hockey and cheer; Memorial boys and girls basketball; and West boys hockey. Madison
Memorial boy’s hockey paused in late December-early January.

Madison school district athletic directors are continuing to communicate the importance of masking in all settings. At Saturday’s Mount Horeb Viking Invitational gymnastics meet, the gymnasts, coaches, officials, media and spectators were masked for the event in Dane County. Several Madison School District teams pause due to COVID-19 protocols Jon Masson | Wisconsin State Journal

“They adapt very well and are resilient,” Mount Horeb gymnastics coach Martha Koller Faust said about her gymnasts again wearing masks this season. “We keep chugging along and, hopefully, we can continue our season and build (toward postseason).” “I don’t have a problem with it,” Madison West senior gymnast Alexa Harris said. “At my old club, we trained with our masks on. So, I don’t really see a difference. It made me feel a lot more comfortable to have my mask on and know that I am being safe and protecting other people around me.”

Will MSD require proof of vaccination to attend games?
Not at this time. Schlitz said masks are required for spectators in the Big Eight Conference. He said the
Madison School District has had discussions about spectator limits and requiring proof of COVID vaccination to attend athletic events, but no changes have been made.

What’s the approach across the state right now?
Why Alexa Harris is having 'so much fun' with Madison West gymnastics now after period of reflection
Jon Masson | Wisconsin State Journal Madison students will return to classrooms on Monday
Elizabeth Beyer | Wisconsin State Journal Decisions about school competitions in the winter sports statewide are being made locally by school districts and their administrators. That includes if teams in the various sports need to pause activities due to positive COVID tests or close contacts within a program or if the size of crowds should be limited or determined by guest lists.

“We have been steadfast this year on the approach that it is a local determination, which the COVID
protocols are, and we followed suit with that with our fall tournaments,” WIAA executive director Stephanie Hauser said in a recent interview at the WIAA office in Stevens Point. “It was based on venue.” The WIAA continues to follow that plan, she said.

“Everybody across the state is dealing with it in their own way,” WIAA associate director Mel Dow said. “But they are still providing opportunities for their kids, and that’s what we’ve learned over and over again — they want to provide opportunities for kids.”
He added: “Our sports medical advisory council has been in conversation with us and keeping us abreast of where things are there. We have to keep our finger on the pulse. We continue to have faith in our member schools that they know what is in the best interest of their schools, their communities and their students. So far, the feedback has been, 'Let’s continue to move forward as safely as we can.'"

Will there be mask mandates during the postseason?
Local guidelines, including in counties such as Dane County that currently have mask mandates, will continue to be followed. “The mask mandate was in place for the state girl’s tennis tournament this fall (in Madison) and it went off without a hitch,” Hauser said. “The fans really complied well. We don’t anticipate it to be a management issue. It’s what needs to be done. “We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have full capacity. We are cautiously optimistic that the mandates will be reasonable. Time will tell."

Is the winter postseason in jeopardy?
Hauser and Dow, who formerly was Stoughton’s athletic director, said the WIAA is prepared to adjust but there are no plans right now to alter the postseason. “I wish I had a crystal ball to see where this is going right now, but, based on some of the things I’m hearing, I think we might be in good shape by the time we get to March — or better shape … better shape than we are right now,” Hauser said. “But we are cautiously optimistic.”

Dow said the WIAA has been in communication with the University of Wisconsin and
other venues. "We have contingencies in place," Dow said. "We hope that we don't
have to open up those folders."
The winter sports state tournaments are the first girls wrestling tournament Jan. 29 in
La Crosse; boys swimming and diving Feb. 18-19 in Waukesha; boys wrestling Feb. 24-
26 in Madison; boys and girls hockey March 3-5 in Madison; gymnastics March 4-5 in Wisconsin Rapids; girls basketball March 10-12 at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon; and boys basketball March 17-19 in Madison.

Boys basketball and boys wrestling tend to be the biggest revenue-producers for the
WIAA in the winter season.
The WIAA already has some experience with adjusting course in the last two years.
The second and third day of the WIAA girl’s basketball tournament and the WIAA boys
basketball sectional finals and state tournament were canceled in March 2020 due to
the COVID-19 pandemic. That led to that spring's competitions and state tournaments
also being canceled.
The 2020-21 school year featured a fall season, a winter season, an alternate fall
season in the spring and the traditional spring season (which began and ended later
than normal).

“The good news — I guess it’s a good news-bad news thing — but the good news is
we’ve been through all of this already,” Hauser said. “Last year, we had to come up
with Plan B and Plan C for all of our state tournaments and we did. So, if we need to do
that again, we will be able to pull it off. I hope that we don’t need to, and I’m cautiously
optimistic that we won’t need to.
“But if we have to [delay or alter the postseason schedule], we will, because we are all
about preserving these opportunities and memories for kids. That they will have state
championship opportunities. They already have had so much taken away from them
through COVID that we don’t want their state tournaments to be added to that list.”

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