Ben Wellnitz

Verona Area/Mount Horeb’s Ben Wellnitz swims the 500-yard freestyle at the WIAA Division 1 state meet last year. The Big Eight Conference canceled the winter sports season.

Big Eight Conference league winter sports competitions have been canceled for 2020-21, and no conference champions will be crowned because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conference, which includes Verona Area High School and Madison West High School, announced the decision Monday, Oct. 19, in a joint statement from athletic directors. It follows a similar announcement from the nearby Badger Conference on Oct. 16.

The decision does not prevent member schools from participating in non conference competitions, though none can be hosted in Dane County under existing health department orders.

“All schools will be supported in their local decisions and may have the option to schedule non-conference competitions in any sports,” the Big Eight statement reads. “As each district allows, in-person practices, games and workouts may be allowed to occur as adopted by member schools and following public health recommendations.”

The WIAA plans to conduct winter sports and has sent out health guidelines for winter sports, which are boys and girls basketball, gymnastics, boys and girls ice hockey, boys swimming and diving and wrestling.

According to the statement, the Big Eight will collaborate on best practices for offering virtual and small group coaching opportunities and provide ways to engage students by providing mental, emotional, leadership, and fitness support. The conference will also expand work around social justice during the 2020-21 school year by introducing a Big 8 YouTube channel which will be home to conference activities and resources.


The Verona Area School District will not offer winter sports until COVID-19 metrics have been met for Dane County, athletic director Joel Zimba wrote in an Oct. 19 news release. He said the district is following Public Health Madison and Dane County reopening metrics regarding the in-person return-to-school.

“Our return-to-athletics will coincide with our return to school,” Zimba wrote. “We will not have winter sports unless/until they return in-person.”

If PHMDC reopening metrics are not met before winter sport start dates, coaches can share virtual individual training activities with students, he said, including training workouts like stretching, flexibility, warm-up, speed, strength and conditioning on a virtual platform following WIAA coaching guidelines.

Madison West

Madison Metropolitan School District Athletic Director Jeremy Schlitz, who also serves as the Big Eight Conference secretary, wrote in an Oct. 19 email to the Press that Madison schools would not offer winter sport in-person coaching during the virtual school model.

He said the district wouldn’t encourage students to gather or train together outside of school grounds through Jan. 24. However, virtual individualized training activities like stretching, flexibility, and warm-up routines, strength and speed training, conditioning, and mental preparation/sport psychology resources are allowed, as long as they follow WIAA coaching contact rules.

“We hope to return to education-based athletic programs with additional guidance from local public health and to allow for the best opportunity to prepare for safe return to our facilities,” Schlitz wrote.