The Janesville School District already has placed the choice of returning to classrooms this fall into the hands of its students and their families.
Now, the district should follow its own lead and let families decide about participation in fall sports.
The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control voted 8-3 on Thursday to conduct its fall sports seasons with delayed start dates for practice depending on the COVID-19 risk level.
Football, boys soccer and volleyball cannot begin practice until the week of Sept. 7. The delayed start was approved in part because it gives school districts a chance to cement their plans for the fall semester and open their schools, for those that choose to do so.
Discussion during the three-hour WIAA meeting centered on the premise of doing everything possible to give student-athletes a chance to return to their sports safely based on national, regional and local health guidelines. Sports officials and WIAA board members have expressed concerns about the general mental, physical and emotional wellness of students who have seen their opportunities diminish during the pandemic. And they believe returning to sports under the strict guidelines set forth by the WIAA is the safest bet.
WIAA officials also asked attendees of the online Zoom meeting to open their minds to what a sports season during a pandemic might look like. State championships or playoffs might not be a possibility this school year, depending on how the pandemic unfolds. But, they said, giving students opportunities to get together, work and compete as a team should be the main priority for school-based sports.
Officials in the Janesville School District should keep those principles in mind as they work on a plan for what sports will look like locally.
The Big Eight Conference voted unanimously Tuesday to cancel its league season and not crown champions this fall. The majority of the league’s schools are in Dane County, where COVID-19 guidelines are some of the strongest in the state, and Madison, Sun Prairie and Middleton already have determined they will begin the fall semester in a virtual setting.
Janesville Parker and Craig high schools play in the Big Eight for most sports, although their football programs will play in the new Badger Large Conference.
Janesville’s athletic directors and administrators should remain open-minded when it comes to the possibilities this fall. If student-athletes wish to return to their fall sports despite not having a conference schedule, officials should get creative in building a schedule of nonconference games and tournaments that would at least allow for participation.
If it is ultimately determined fall sports cannot occur in Janesville, officials should work to make those sports available in the spring—if the pandemic allows, of course. The WIAA’s vote Thursday included provisions for schools unable to compete this fall to potentially play their fall sports in the spring semester.
None of these scenarios is ideal, but if Janesville administrators believe they can safely give families a choice on how school is conducted this fall, they should give those families a similar choice in athletics.