What will the high school spring season look like?

After sitting empty last spring, First National Bank of River Falls Field will host its first high school baseball game in two years, and very first on its new artificial turf playing surface, when River Falls plays its home opener against Chippewa Falls Thursday, April 29. File photo.

RIVER FALLS, Wis.-- Schedules are set and practices start April 19, but what will the spring high school sports season look like in Wisconsin this year?

Last spring COVID closed schools, shut down facilities and robbed student-athletes of the opportunity to compete in sports like baseball, softball and track. When high school sports were allowed to resume in the fall, masks, social distancing, limited attendance and other protocols designed to limit the spread of COVID were in place. Those protocols remained in place during the winter. Now with spring sports resuming for the first time in two years, what will the protocols be?

“It still has to be finalized,” River Falls activities director Rollie Hall said. “I don't think we can say this is over yet.”

Hall pointed to the recent spike in COVID cases in St. Croix County, and a surge in Carver County, Minn., that’s been traced back to youth sports.

“And by youth sports that means high school on down,” Hall noted. “So we’ve still got to be cautious. Hopefully we don't have another spike here.”

Hall said he anticipates masking and social distancing will remain in place for the spring season, but to what extent is yet to be determined.

“At the conference level we're trying to be as much alike as possible just to keep it normal,” he said.

He said for sports like track, the number of teams at each meet will likely be limited.

“The state came out and said we could have either up to eight teams or 400 athletes,” he noted. “In the Big Rivers we went with all smaller meets. We're having a lot more conference meets of three or four teams-- about one a week. That's the plan for right now. Whether we get into more later in the year if it all gets better? Who knows? It's a pretty fast season. It’ s basically about a seven week season so we're trying to get them on the track as much as possible.”

Tryouts and practices for high school baseball, softball, track, and boys’ golf are set to begin Monday, April 19, while girls’ soccer will begin May 26 and boys’ tennis will start May 3.

The late starts are due to the WIAA’s “alternate spring season,” designed to accommodate schools that were unable to participate in the traditional fall season, including football. Over 100 schools across the state, including Eau Claire Memorial and Eau Claire North of the Big Rivers Conference, are currently competing in the alternate spring season.

Hall said the down time between the winter and spring seasons may be beneficial in the long run.

“Those teams are playing right now so that's why we have this long gap,” he noted. “But I think it was a nice reset for us because the winter got pretty hectic there at the end.”

One thing Hall is anxious to see is the effect on numbers for the spring seasons, considering the late start and the fact some postseason tournaments will stretch into early July.

“We'll know more this week,” he said. “Registration will go through this week so we'll see how many we lose. I'm sure we'll lose some, and we might gain some.”

He said one thing for sure is the school wants to give student-athletes every opportunity to compete.

“Last year they didn't get to do anything,” he said. “So we're trying to get as many games in as we can. The old theory that we need a lot more practices than games-- this year that’s kind of going out the door.”

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