Milton School District students will get a winter athletics season.

After nearly two hours of discussion Monday, the school board voted 6-1 to allow Superintendent Rich Dahman to work with administrators and hold winter athletics and activities competitions at Milton High School.

If the high school goes fully virtual—as it is now because of a number of students testing positive for the coronavirus—athletics and activities will be suspended during that time, the board decided.

Based on a surge in COVID-19 cases in Rock County and the fact that sports are transitioning indoors, the Rock County Public Health Department has recommended against competitive sports in which athletes cannot physically distance.

Yet at the same time, Rock County has issued guidance on how to limit the increased risk of competitions.

The school board did not require, as at least one other district has done, that student athletes attend school fully virtually.

School board member Rick Mullen, who played basketball in high school, cast the only "no" vote.

“There’s been a lot of emotion involved in this issue,” Mullen said. “I completely understand that. I’ve been trying to look at the facts. Since August, things have gotten much, much worse. Cases are up, positivity rates up, hospitalizations are up, deaths are up, contact tracing is down. Testing sites are overburdened. ...

"I think there are a lot of questions about what’s going to happen in winter. These are all indoor sports. There will be a lot of close contact: basketball, wrestling. Plus, flu season is coming up. Who knows what that’s going to do?

“I get really confused when I hear administration saying we need these things in the schools like one-way hallways; we’re doing the cohorts," he said. "We’re asking kids to stay away from each other, but then it’s OK to play basketball and wrestle?”

Board member Shelly Crull-Hanke replied, “I just really feel kids need hope, and these coaches need hope—something to keep going forward right now. And this is a way to for them.”

Jeff Spiwak, the high school's director of athletics and activities, said 68% of high school football teams and 74% of girls volleyball teams played this fall statewide. Many students are looking to do winter sports.

“To take away something they’re passionate about is detrimental,” board member Brian Kvapil said.

“I don’t want to say COVID isn’t a serious issue. It is," he said. "But in my opinion, I think the risk is higher that we’re going to do some damage and cause some real issues with stress and anxiety with our students that could be at a higher risk of being more catastrophic than what COVID is.”

While positive cases of the coronavirus could halt a sports season, Dahman said, “If we’re getting reports that folks aren’t following our safety protocol, we aren’t going to allow that group to continue.

“Our hope is that being allowed to participate in activities will motivate them to do an even better job than they’ve been doing both in school and outside of school,” he said.

Dahman said high school athletes will be allowed two spectators per home competition. No away visitors will be allowed, and teams will not play anywhere that allows away visitors.

Dahman said he will recommend that parents sign a waiver before students participate in winter athletics and activities.

Spiwak said accommodations will be made to mitigate virus spread. If the governor mandates masks, athletes will wear masks, he said.