'Pandemic year means pandemic rules': WIAA approves overhaul of high school sports rules, schedules

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STEVENS POINT, Wis. — The body that governs Wisconsin high school sports has approved a major overhaul to season structures heading into the new school year as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association's board on Friday, Aug. 14, unanimously approved a host of changes after meeting for around three hours with a hefty agenda.

Kyle LeMieux, associate principal and athletic director at Waukesha West High School, said the board meeting was "huge" in providing flexibility and clarity for districts.

"We started to say lately, 'Pandemic year means pandemic rules,' and so we understand that this is not going to be something that sticks over the long haul, but any ability we have to be able to be flexible within our system to provide a quality experience for kids where we do not have to face the barrier of choosing between two great things is a win in my book," LeMieux said.

The WIAA board gave schools more guidance on health conditions such as what to do if student athletes test positive for COVID-19.

The board unanimously decided to maintain the current fall sports but also gives schools the option to move fall sports to the spring. Low-risk fall sports can start practice on Monday, and high-risk sports like volleyball and football can start on Sept. 7.

The fall and spring seasons will now overlap under the new calendars approved by the board, but students would be able to play multiple sports at the same time.

Other changes approved by the WIAA include freezing officials' classifications, lifting sanctions for leaving a conference, allowing athletes to play for both their school and club teams, eliminating the minimum number of games needed to qualify for state tournament play and allowing a fifth quarter in football games and extra innings in baseball and softball games so reserve players get a chance to play.

Dave Anderson, executive director for the WIAA, said all the changes are in effort to give schools flexibility depending on where they are in the state and what the virus conditions are.

"For this year, what we are attempting to do is see that there is an opportunity that there might still be hope left on the table," Anderson told CBS 58. "We can't promise that because we have made plans that they will materialize exactly as we had laid them out, and when we get there and discover that something cannot work then we will have to take our next fallback position."

The WIAA board approved the changes unanimously after hearing from Dr. Tim McGuine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine. McGuine told board members that not having sports is leading to depression and mental health issues for students.

"High school sports should be offered by schools as a crucial and necessary intervention to help kids stay healthy during COVID and after COVID-19," McGuine said.

As Waukesha West student athletes prepare to start practice in the coming weeks, LeMieux has a message for them and their families.

"Following our mitigation steps, practicing social distancing, avoiding some of those situations that maybe you would normally be a part of are a great way of protecting your season," LeMieux said.

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