Like the rest of the state, Elkhorn Area High student-athletes did not get a chance to compete in spring sports in 2020.
In Mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the high school winter sports season for girls and boys basketball and then later completely wiped out the spring sports season.
With no closure for the 2020 graduates in athletics, Elkhorn officials decided to give those that had planned to go out for a spring sport one last chance to compete.
The high school, which features state-of-the-art facilities—both indoors and outdoors—hosted a number of competitions in baseball, softball, boys and girls track and field, boys tennis and girls soccer.
Athletes were allowed five days of practice under WIAA guidelines and a maximum of three competitions—whether they were meets, games or matches.
Elkhorn Area athletic director Dan Kiel said thanks to the strong support of the district and the community, athletes took full advantage of the opportunity.
“More than anything, we wanted to give our kids a sense of normalcy and get them back into our building,” Kiel said. “And just to see the look on their faces when they came back made it all worthwhile.
“You set up specific (COVID) guidelines and protocol, and thanks to the full support of the district, we wanted to give all opportunities to our kids that were allowed.”
A big reason Elkhorn decided to allow on-site participation and not continue virtual coaching and training like many other districts continue to do was to get a better feel of what to expect athletically going forward.
Kiel knows the landscape of high school sports has likely changed forever, so he wanted to try and get ahead of the curve to see what works and what doesn’t.
Can kids socially distance both at school and when they’re away from it?
How often and how thoroughly does equipment need to be sanitized?
Would anyone contract COVID-19 upon returning to workouts, and if so, how would the district handle it?
Fortunately, in regards to the last question, the answer was no. Kiel said no one has tested positive since athletes were allowed back in school. Kiel also said no athlete opted out of returning for a shortened spring season this summer due to COVID-19 concerns. The only ones that chose not to participate, he said, did so because of work commitments or family vacation plans.
“I think a lot of people have the misconception that these kids were just sitting around at home,” Kiel said. “That’s not the case at all. Most of them were involved with their club teams and had already been playing and practicing as part of those teams. And wherever those teams might’ve been playing tournaments or such, they had to follow guidelines there, as well. So they know all about social distancing and how important it is.
“I really think we learned a lot about what to expect in the short time we were back at school, and that’s important, because at some point we’re going to get to that stage once again.”
Elkhorn boys tennis and girls soccer players played a couple matches, while the softball and baseball teams were also able to get in a few games.
The boys and girls track and field team, thanks to the ingenuity of coach Cody Christensen, held a live virtual meet along with three other schools. The Elks competed live on their home track, while other schools did the same on their own tracks, and times for the running events and measures for the field events were shared through Zoom online.
Elkhorn’s softball team played three games with two-time defending Division 4 state champion Horicon.
Elkhorn coach Steve Remington said the practices and games went off without a hitch.
“We were lucky in the fact that the leadership from our district encouraged us to play as long as we followed protocol set forth by the CDC, which we did,” Remington said. “The few games we did have brought so much joy and emotion to our girls, especially the seniors that thought they may never get a chance to play again as teammates.
“You could just feel the energy right away, and for the 23 girls that decided to play, I truly think it was an experience they’ll never forget.”
There will be one more softball game in Elkhorn on Monday.
Called the 2020 Southern Lakes Senior Softball Showdown, 27 seniors from the eight Southern Lakes Conference teams, along with three from Burlington Catholic Cental, will play one game at 5 p.m. Monday. While the game will be played at Elkhorn, it is not an official school district event. Many of the players participating will play at the collegiate level.
“The pandemic ruined their senior season, so this is a way for them to all get together and play one last game before many of them head off to college to play,” Remington said.
“The game will be announced by Chris Weithaus, and we’re hoping to have a food truck on hand to feed spectators, as well as a photographer to capture this iconic event.”
With fall sports still on the agenda at this point for Elkhorn and the majority of area districts, Kiel said student-athletes will need to take a different approach when it comes to being sick.
“Lets face it, the mindset has to change,” Kiel said. “If you didn’t feel good before but played because of your dedication to your team and your teammates, it was considered a badge of honor. Going forward, if you do that, it will be a sign of selfishness. Playing through it is not an option. Simply stay home if you don’t feel well because there will be no pressure from anyone not to.”