Eight months have passed since Janesville last held a high school sporting event.
You’ll understand, then, that for this sports editor Thursday night’s Janesville School Board meeting felt like the greatest sports-related spectacle of 2020.
It had the drama of tie scores. It had knockout-punch-worthy talking points from parties on both sides—those who wanted to move forward with winter sports and those looking to at least postpone them. And, in the end, it had a game-changing “play” that was drawn up by board member Kevin Murray.
When the dust settled, those advocating for the play of sports won. And now programs from Janesville Parker and Craig can begin putting together schedules with games that begin Dec. 1.
Essentially, the board twice was deadlocked, 4-4, with its president absent and unable to break the tie on motions to begin winter sports and extra-curricular activities as scheduled. The sports competition start dates would have been Nov. 24 for girls basketball, Nov. 27 for boys and girls hockey and Dec. 1 or later for boys basketball, wrestling, boys swim and gymnastics.
When a motion shifted to only include sports and Murray amended it to include a Dec. 1 start date for competitions instead of Jan. 18 as initially proposed, board member Greg Ardrey shifted his vote, leaving a 5-3 tally and winter sports in Janesville to either start on time or—at most, in the case of girls basketball—eight days late.
What we know
Here’s some of what we know about winter sports in Janesville after Thursday’s vote:
- Open gym opportunities can continue to be held in pods, and teams can begin practicing with current protocols in place. The official start dates for practice are Nov. 16 for girls basketball, gymnastics and hockey, and Nov. 23 for boys basketball, boys swim and wrestling.
- Competitions can begin Dec. 1, or at the WIAA’s earliest official start date for sports previously scheduled to begin later in December.
- If learning at the Janesville schools goes to an all-virtual model, sports will be suspended. If the whole district is virtual, all sports are suspended, but if just one specific high school goes virtual, only that school’s sports will pause.
- There will be no spectators allowed at games. The district said Thursday cameras have been installed and games will be streamed live on a YouTube channel.
Yet to learn
Like everything else in 2020, we still have plenty that we’ll have to learn moving forward.
- One question that came up after Thursday’s meeting was: If just one of the high schools pivots to all-virtual, what does that mean for a Janesville Bluebirds co-op boys hockey team made up of players from both schools?
That is a question the district and its athletic officials will probably need to address with a contingency plan.
- Who will Janesville teams play?
As of now, it appears Janesville’s teams are the only programs in the Big Eight Conference moving forward with a winter season.
The Badger Conference also will not have a league season, but more than half of its members appear poised to attempt winter sports, so those teams can be options to fill Craig and Parker schedules.
There are also Rock Valley and Southern Lakes programs in the mix.
District and athletic officials Thursday indicated they’ve been in touch with enough teams that they’ll be able to put together schedules.
- Will this work?
Obviously that’s the biggest question, and it’s one nobody can answer.
About three-quarters of the state’s high schools attempted to have fall sports, and they did so with varying success.
On one hand, the WIAA was able to hold tournament series for every sport, and a full-on state tournament for everything except football. We watched as Elkhorn and Delavan-Darien made runs to the state boys soccer tournament and the Badger girls tennis and boys cross country teams found success at a similarly high level.
On the other hand, there have been a rash of postponements and cancellations as districts pivot online or otherwise grapple with the pandemic.
Positive COVID-19 cases and related deaths in Wisconsin are at all-time highs. The virus is not going anywhere.
And so it seems unlikely that winter sports in Janesville go off without a hitch. Whether it’s a specific program or a certain high school or the whole district, a pause is likely at some point.
Perhaps things get even worse than that, and the winter season ends completely.
But on Thursday it did not end before it even began—which was one of the options on the table, to cancel the season.
Janesville’s school board followed others in the area in giving winter sports a chance.