Evansville School District pushing to play winter sports regardless of conference decision

EVANSVILLE, Wis. – Leaders with the Evansville School District are pushing to participate in winter sports like basketball and wrestling, regardless of whether the Rock Valley Conference votes to compete.

District administrators from the conference are set to meet next week to vote on winter sports. Evansville Principal Jason Knott says if there’s no conference games, the school will work to arrange non-conference matchups.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the kids like our athletes right now,” Knott said. “This is hitting them not being able to compete.”

Knott says the decision to play winter sports has been in consideration for months, with plans starting over the summer. He says while Evansville didn’t participate in fall sports, more than half of the schools around the state did. Knott says if the school doesn’t provide students the chance to play team sports during the winter, it’s likely athletes will compete in tournaments or club teams – which could be taking fewer precautions.

“If we don’t give these opportunities and put them out there under the very strict parameters we’ve set up, they’re going to find opportunities,” he said.

Knott says ESD athletes will compete under strict regulations laid out by the WIAA.

“If we show up to a site where there are spectators, we’re going to have our kids get on a bus and go home,” Knott said.

Knott says they success of in-person learning during the fall semester lays the groundwork for safe winter sports.

“I think there was probably this feeling about going into the school year, that schools were going to be these hotbeds of outbreaks. I don’t think data would indicate that. If anything, I’d argue that schools have been some of the safest places we could have folks right now,” Knott said.

With no scheduled conference games, the school plans to travel to locations like Baraboo, Lake Mills and Watertown.

“We’re looking at it from a position of how we can preserve opportunities for our kids,” said ESD teacher and wrestling coach Rob Kostroun. “What does it take to do that?”

Under the WIAA guidelines, Kostroun’s team would only participate in 1/4 of the usual competitions – and no tournaments. In addition, changes would be made to eliminate wrestlers coming in contact with multiple people over the course of a practice or meet.

“We can’t eliminate the risk, but we can certainly recognize it and take steps to mitigate it,” he said. “Then we can decide for ourselves.”

Kostroun says unlike tournaments in the Wisconsin Dells, the team would work to be transparent about COVID cases that could arise over the course of a season.

Both men say they’re prepared to stop a season if cases become unmanageable.

“If it doesn’t work out, we’ll shut it down,” Kostroun said. :But we’re hoping with what we put in place, we’re going to be able to make a run of it.”

“We feel like we owe those families and those students to see lets make it we can see it work,” Knott said.