Last month, when the WIAA canceled the 2020 spring high school sports season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it left open the option for teams to reconvene in July - provided social distancing restrictions have been lifted by then - for up to 30 days for practices, scrimmages and games.
What that could look like for a few local high schools began to take shape late last week.
Activities directors from Rhinelander, Antigo, Lakeland and Three Lakes high schools have worked together on a schedule that would feature one week of competition between July 13-17 in which all six WIAA-sanctioned spring sports would compete anywhere from one to four times.
The proposal would need to be approved by the administration of all schools involved, as the organization of contests during this period is in the hands of participating schools. RHS activities director Brian Paulson said the plan received a green light from School District of Rhinelander administration earlier this week.
"We're hoping that if we get it out early enough - which I think we're on a good time right now - to get it out, families can plan for that," Paulson told the River News. "And, only being 15 days (between practices and competitions), some kids want to work during the summer and they don't want it dragged out. Hopefully, this plan would allow them the opportunity to hit it hard for a short period of time and enjoy their last time putting a senior jersey on."
The WIAA is currently allowing spring sports teams to begin having face-to-face contact July 1, given that the latest Safer at Home order from Gov. Tony Evers has closed Wisconsin schools for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, which officially ends June 30. The WIAA-mandated acclimatization period - between 3-7 practices depending on the sport - remains in effect.
Paulson said Rhinelander teams would practice between July 1-10 (taking off July 3-5 for the Independence Day holiday) to meet the acclimatization requirements before competition begins.
The River News was able to obtain a copy of the proposed schedule. Here's how the schedule would shape up for each sport:
All four schools would play a doubleheader in Antigo Monday, July 13 (Rhinelander vs. Three Lakes and Antigo vs. Lakeland at 3 p.m.; Lakeland vs. Rhinelander and Antigo vs. Three Lakes at 6 p.m.).
Rhinelander would host Antigo in a doubleheader Wednesday, July 15.
Three Lakes would host Lakeland Friday, July 17.
All four schools would play two, two-game mini-tournaments - one at Lakeland Wednesday, July 15 and the other at Three Lakes Thursday, July 16.
Rhinelander would host all four schools Wednesday, July 15 (Antigo vs. Three Lakes at 5 p.m., Lakeland vs. Rhinelander at 7 p.m.)
Antigo would host all four schools Thursday, July 16 (Rhinelander vs. Three Lakes at 4:30 p.m., Antigo vs. Lakeland at 6:30 p.m.)
Track and Field
All four schools would compete in a meet hosted by Three Lakes Wednesday, July 15.
Rhinelander, Antigo and Lakeland would face one another in double duals at Lakeland Monday, July 13 and Antigo Wednesday, July 15.
All four teams would compete in an 18-hole, varsity match at Timber Ridge Golf Club in Minocqua Monday, July 13.
A possible match may be held at Bass Lake Golf Club in Deerbrook, tentatively set for, July 15.
"We for sure want them to put the jersey on, that's No. 1. No. 2, is we try to have a home game," Paulson said.
It's an idea that RHS girls' soccer coach Richard Kotula has been advocating ever since the WIAA left open the possibility of July contact for spring sports teams.
"(Paulson's) meeting with athletic directors from nearby schools, start putting a seed in their head to start thinking about this, at least with schools that are in close proximity with us, where we don't have to travel far, an idea where we can play two games at home and two games away," he said.
Rhinelander also tried to work around already-established summer schedules for fall and winter sports contact, which may also begin July 1. Monday and Tuesday were avoided for girls' sports to avoid conflicts with Monday night volleyball in Tomahawk and Tuesday night basketball at D.C. Everest. Similarly, Tuesday and Thursday nights were avoided for boys' sports due to the UWSP at Wausau basketball league on Tuesday and the Northwoods 7-on-7 football league on Thursday. Paulson said he also tried to leave Friday, July 17 open as there are tentative plans in the works to reschedule Rhinelander's senior prom for that evening.
Paulson said the challenge was to balance time for all sports during the month of July without putting excessive strain on the student-athletes - especially underclassmen who participate in more than one sport.
"What we don't want to do is jeopardize our fall and winter sports, not to be able to work next year at all, work ahead, especially leading into the fall where kids are just pounded with spring sports," he said. "There's got to be some happy medium there."
That's a sentiment that Aaron Kraemer is particularly aware of as head coach of both the RHS football and track teams. The trick, he said, is making sure everyone can have their chance with the athletes in July without it turning in to a free-for-all for their time.
"I think it presents more challenges in rest than it does in activity," he said. "There's going to be a whole laundry list of ideas coaches want to bring to their teams, and things they want to do, but we have to be patient with our athletes. We've got to make sure we provide (opportunities) for them but we're not punitive and continue to build connections with them in a time when connection is the most important."
Participating in spring sports this summer is being done on a school-by-school basis as the Great Northern Conference officially canceled its spring sports season in response to the WIAA's decision. Paulson said two area schools he contacted - Northland Pines and Tomahawk - would not participate. However, Paulson felt making the effort to salvage some sort spring sports season, was important.
"I think that was the No. 1 deciding factor on my side," he said. "Do we just say, 'Hey, no spring sports season at all or do we try to make something happen?' I think it's important that we try. I love that, our graduation, we're trying to push that off. It might not happen, we get that, but the No. 1 thing is we're trying to do it for the kids and their families. That's what it's about."
Jeremy Mayo may be reached at email@example.com.
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