The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association pushed forward with starting fall sports, but with the stipulation that “higher risk” and “lower risk” sports will be delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a special business meeting conducted virtually Thursday, July 23, the WIAA Board of Control approved a plan for the 2020-21 school year to start girls golf, girls tennis, girls swimming and diving and boys and girls cross country – sports deemed “lower risk” on Aug. 17. The “higher risk” sports of football, boys soccer and boys and girls volleyball can start Sept. 7.

“The WIAA had a difficult decision to make, and I think that they did the best that they could in deciding with the cards that were on the table,” Verona athletic director Joel Zimba wrote in an email to the Press. “Their decision takes into account the varying impact of the virus from county to county.”

The motion to move forward with fall sports was approved 8-3, and also included language that would provide schools and conferences that cannot play in the fall potential opportunities to play in the spring.

The Verona Board of Education in a video conference meeting on Monday, July 27, grappled with the realization that fall sports will likely have to be moved back to spring 2021, which is an option in the WIAA plan.

“I look at our athletics as a way to keep kids incentivized through a challenging start of the year,” said school board member Meredith Stier Christensen, whose senior son Graham plays football at Verona. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic simultaneously with their once-in-a-lifetime high school years. Whatever we can do to minimize the loss of experiential opportunities, I hope we can pursue that.”

The decision by the state’s high school sports governing body came two days after athletic directors from the Big Eight Conference voted unanimously to cancel league competitions and would not crown conference champions. However, the Big Eight did leave the door open for its member schools to play nonconference competitions local public health and WIAA guidelines.

“We must ensure that the athletic model aligns with that of academics, whether it be virtual, blended, or in-person instruction,” Zimba said. “For example, if we go the direction of virtual education, the proposed plan to move fall sports to the spring would be a viable option. Once again, what is the best choice for one district may not be for another, even within the Big Eight Conference. We must acknowledge and respect these differences.”

The county is still in a modified version of Phase 2 of the Forward Dane reopening plan. Most sporting events are still prohibited in the county. Indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people or less and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 or less.

Eight of the 10 Big Eight Conference members are located in Dane County.

Zimba said the only fall sports Verona could schedule this fall are girls golf and girls tennis.

“Our hope (in moving fall sports to the spring) is a vaccine, maybe guidance changes where we can possibly field that opportunity,” he said. “It just makes sense to try to be in a better situation by that time. There are no guarantees right now and even if you did try right now, there are certain sports where it’s just not happening. That’s just the reality of the situation.

“What we all want is just not feasible. It just makes sense to wait.”

Zimba said the WIAA will announce a cutoff date for when schools have to announce whether they are moving ahead with fall sports schedules or moving fall sports to the spring. If a school moves forward with fall sports as scheduled but has a coronavirus outbreak and a team cannot continue a season, it will be wiped out and prohibited to be pushed back to the spring.

In the revised WIAA fall sports plan, the earliest dates for competition in each sport – girls golf (Aug. 20), girls tennis (Aug. 21), boys and girls cross country and girls swimming (Aug. 25), boys soccer and boys and girls volleyball (Sept. 15) and football (Sept. 23 if the first practice is conducted on Sept. 7).

An amendment to move up the start date for “higher risk” sports – which would have been Aug. 24 – failed by a 9-2 vote.

There are no changes to the current summer contact days. Coaches of 11-man football teams have an unrestricted contact period that runs through Aug. 1. All other sports, including 8-man football, have a contact period that runs through Aug. 8.

The end of the fall sports seasons remained unchanged, but the Board indicated sports may or may not culminate with traditional state tournament series. In addition, the winter and spring season calendars were not altered.

It is still unclear if and when any competitions will be permitted within Dane County even after the WIAA’s decision.

A proposal by administrators from the southwest part of the state – including Platteville, Black Hawk and Darlington – called on the WIAA to move fall sports to spring 2021 and spring sports to the summer. Fall sports would have started in March and concluded in late May, and spring sports would have started in late May and wrapped up in July.

The “Southwest Plan” is still under consideration, though some administrators objected because of a possible shortage of coaches, officials, facilities, fields and courts. Administrators also noted some senior athletes may not choose to play for their high school, AAU or club teams in the summer after they graduate.