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Governor Tony Evers orders closure of all schools beginning by at least next Wednesday, forcing delays to high school spring sports

03/13/2020, 5:00pm CDT
By Travis Wilson
Tony Evers

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers

Wisconsin governor Tony Evers, a former Superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction, on Friday afternoon ordered the state's Department of Health Services to issue an order to close all K-12 Wisconsin schools, both public and private, to attempt to stem the tide of the COVID-19 cororonavirus.

"Closing our schools is not a decision I made lightly, but keeping our kids, our educators, our families, and our communities safe is a top priority as we continue to work to respond to and prevent further spread of COVID-19 in Wisconsin," Evers' statement read.

"Kids and families across Wisconsin often depend on our schools to access food and care. We are going to continue working to do everything we can to ensure kids and families have the resources and support they need while schools are closed.

"The mandated closure will begin on Wednesday, March 18th, to give school districts ample time to make plans for kids, families, educators, and staff, but school districts may choose to close earlier than Wednesday."

A follow-up statement from the Department of Health Services indicated an anticipated reopening on April 6th, but it is subject to change. Also, some schools may choose to remain closed longer based on local situations or if cases are discovered at a later date.

This extraordinary measure comes just hours after the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association announced that the spring sports season would not have any changes or alterations.

However, with all schools in the state now closed, spring sports will be delayed, at the least.

WIAA guidelines on infectious disease and school closures

The WIAA has policies in place in the Senior Handbook that deal with not only infectious diseases, but lengthy school closures. The information below is taken from the WIAA website:

Article II - School Competition and Practice Requirements – p. 28 

Section 6 – Classes Interrupted

A. In the event scheduled classes are interrupted or terminated due to infectious/communicable disease by the school district or by local/county/state health agencies, interscholastic athletic practice and competition will be postponed or cancelled. If school is closed through the weekend but scheduled to reopen on Monday, practice would be allowed on Sunday if approved by school administration.

  1. During the regular season, contests may be postponed and played at a later date in accordance with respective season regulations.
  2. During the WIAA tournament series, if a school is closed or will be closed on the day of a WIAA tournament contest, the WIAA contest will be rescheduled, when possible, to the earliest possible date provided the rescheduled contest will be completed prior to the next scheduled round of the WIAA tournament. (Football contests must meet season regulations, 6c.) If rescheduling is not possible, the team/individual most recently defeated in tournament competition will take that school/team’s place in the WIAA tournament game/meet/event.

Note: Schools participating in co-op programs which are not closed may continue to compete in the WIAA tournament series.

B. In the event scheduled classes are interrupted or terminated for reasons other than health, interscholastic athletic practice and competition may continue as determined by the administration, only if a duly authorized and qualified coach is in attendance, directly supervising and conducting the activity.

C. In the event scheduled classes are interrupted in A. or B. for an extended period of time:

  1. If practices have been terminated for a period of at least seven days, but less than 14 days, a school may not resume competition until after three separate days of practice.  
  2. If practices have been terminated for a period of 14 days or more, a school may not resume competition until after five separate days of practice.  
  3. The requirement of minimum practice days as described in 1) and 2) above shall apply for any interruption or termination of classes, including Christmas-New Year and spring vacations.  
  4. Days as used in this Section shall be interpreted as calendar days. Article III – School Equipment

Evers' decision caps week of precedented changes in high school sports

This latest action caps a dramatic week that began with enthusiasm over the girls basketball state tournament and boys basketball sectionals, but was thrown off the rails when the spread of coronavirus and attempts to limit its exposure resulted in college sports leagues limiting fan attendance for conference tournaments, then the cancelation of said tournaments and the suspension of all activities for the vast majority of college and professional sports.

The WIAA initially indicated on Wednesday that there would be no disruptions to the winter tournament series, but less than 12 hours later, would announce a limit of 88 spectators per team for all remaining contests. 

The Girls Basketball State Tournament began with limited fan attendance on Thursday afternoon, when it was also announced that the University of Wisconsin would not be used as a host site for the Boys Basketball Tournament. 

Thursday's Girls Basketball State Tournament games were completed, along with 38 boys sectional semi-finals, but shortly after 11 o'clock following an emergency Board of Control meeting, the WIAA announced that all winter sports were canceled immediately.

In a time when all areas of society, and especially sports, are changing so rapidly, it is difficult to determine when high school sports will begin again.

About the Author

Travis Wilson serves as the WisSports.net General Manager, Football Editor, and contributing writer for other parts of the site. Wilson was selected as part of the Sports 40 Under 40 list by Coach & AD Magazine and the National High School Athletic Coaches Association for 2019. The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) named Travis the 2015 recipient of the Dave McClain Distinguished Service Award. He currently serves on the WFCA Executive Board as the Website and Communications Director and is a member of the Executive Board of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. A graduate of Richland Center High School and Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Travis was a three-sport athlete in high school (football, baseball, basketball) and currently resides in Reedsburg. You can follow him on Twitter at @travisWSN.

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