Big 8 high schools plan for atypical sports season

MADISON, Wis. – As the Big 8 Conference announces it won’t have any fall competitions, the high schools in the conference are planning for an atypical year.

The Big 8 said the decision is because not all members would be able to participate fully, with the majority of schools starting the year off completely virtually. That includes schools in Madison, Middleton and Sun Prairie.

Sun Prairie’s brand new stadium, originally slated to be ready by the season’s first game, likely won’t have the debut many had in mind.

“It’s definitely been very difficult on a lot of families,” said Sun Prairie Athletic Director Eric Nee.

Nee said while coaches formed a plan two weeks ago to be ready to start off the fall season if the opportunity was there, the turning tide of the pandemic is forcing schools in the Big 8 conference to reroute.

“It’s hard, but in the big scheme of things, when you look at the number of cases every day, people dying … if we can provide a sports season, we will, but we’re not going to do it if we can’t do it safely,” said Perry Hibner, communications director for the Middleton-Cross Plains School District. “We all feel awful about this. We really do. We wish there was some way to make this work.”

According to Hibner, the district is in a holding pattern, waiting for guidance to see if there are opportunities for small group instruction or virtual training.

Nee said Sun Prairie is planning virtual coaching using a number of online platforms.

“It’s Zoom meetings, meeting with the kids, very similar to normal practice and giving them instruction,” Nee said. “It’s crucial that we still have that connection with students throughout the year.”

Hibner said the district is part of a petition with schools asking the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association to consider pushing the fall sports season into the spring in hopes of buying time.

There is an option for schools to schedule and play non-conference games if allowed by local health officials and school decision-makers. Nee said that gives Big 8 schools that have in-person instruction, like those in Rock County such as Beloit and Janesville, more leeway to schedule games.

He and Hibner said they hope a WIAA board of control meeting Thursday will offer schools more guidance.