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Boys basketball coaches voice opinions on upcoming season, the WIAA, wearing of masks

11/09/2020, 11:45am CST
By Mark Miller

If we thought the 2019-20 boys' high school basketball season was unusual, and it most definitely was, wait until the new campaign gets underway on November 23 with the start of practice.

In recent weeks, Wisconsin has experienced record highs in both the number of positive cases and hospitalizations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spread and looming threat of the virus figures to create chaos with the upcoming season after it caused the WIAA to cancel last season one week before the start of the WIAA State Tournament. 

A quick check with some coaches around the state to three pressing questions staring down every administrator, coach, player and fan revealed some interesting answers and discussion points. 

Unfortunately, there are few definitive answers, but the following responses should at least create some meaningful dialog. 

QUESTION 1
What is the best course of action for the upcoming high school season? Play, not play, delay? 

Hunter Price
Big Foot High School of Rock Valley Conference

"I think the most important thing that can happen is that we're given a choice. With that said, we definitely should be given the option to play. We can't delay, as nice as that sounds, because football has already been pushed back in a lot of schools and then you start running into AAU the closer to summer you get. But if everyone is given the choice to make a well-informed decision to play with all of the precautions needed to play, they should be allowed to play. We make choices that involve safety every day. From driving a car on the highway to wearing a helmet when we go on a bike ride. Once those choices are taken away, I'm not sure what we're left with. I think we have to be sensitive to those who are struggling with these decisions and not pressure anyone any certain way, but those who want to play and whose parents want them to play should be allowed to play."

Dan Burreson
Mineral Point High School of Southwest Wisconsin Activities League

"I wish I had a great answer to the question. I think you start the season and see what happens."  

Ty Moseler
Milwaukee South Division of Milwaukee City Conference

"I say play. I say leave it up to the individual schools to decide with what they are comfortable doing. I don't see it making sense to hold back teams and kids who are OK with playing or are able to play because some can't. Delaying it does nothing. Fall season was delayed and what did that do? Nothing. I think the WIAA would be correct in leaving it at the local control to decide on playing this season or not."

Steve Collins
Madison Memorial of Big Eight Conference

"I think delaying for everyone until we can be in a different position statewide regarding virus spread, hospital capacity, etc., is the best course of action. With winter coming, and without statewide restrictions that are followed by all, it makes the most sense to delay in-person contact following the position of public health. My opinion is if the majority of the state is not able to play during the November-March season, the WIAA should not be sanctioning the sport season. The WIAA needs to represent all the members."

Alex Olson
Milton High School of Badger South Conference

"I don’t think delaying the season is possible with the current WIAA calendar in place. I feel giving the student-athletes an opportunity is what we should try to provide. Our job as coaches is to show leadership in our district, conferences, and counties about avenues we can go about this upcoming winter season safely. There is also strong data through current fall sports and off season sports activities across the state that I feel supports a winter sports season."

Damon James
Grafton High School of North Shore Conference

"In my opinion, allowing the high school season to take place is the best course of action. As a school organization and community, we all are working hard to try and give our high school students an opportunity to have a high school experience. Having a basketball season, one that requires tremendous flexibility from everyone involved, is key." 

Cory Haese
Wrightstown High School of North Eastern Conference

"I think the best option is to play. Our conference played out its entire fall athletic seasons for all sports and of course it had some peaks and valleys, but that was to be expected. The student athletes want and need to play, in my opinion. It will be a very fine line, though, as to be mindful of the health and safety of all involved."

Nick Bennett
Racine St. Catherine's of Metro Classic Conference

"I do feel playing is best. The kids will play one way or another  via high school, AAU, pick-up, camps, training sessions, etc. Giving the kids the best, safest, and most prepared outlet to play should fall on the responsibility of the schools and WIAA. People will drive regardless of the road conditions. We count on our transportation department to get everything as safe as possible  in terms of plowing the snow, light the roads, update traffic signs, etc. It is my feeling we should do the same for our athletes."

Ryan Brown
Medford High School of Great Northern Conference

"My opinion is we definitely need to play in whatever capacity we are able to. I think as coaches we WANT to play, but our players NEED the opportunity to play. They need the character and leadership development, exercise, support of their team members, and social aspects of sport to help them get through this difficult time. I think fall sports provided the blueprint for playing. Teams may need to take a week or two off if a student athlete was to get sick, games may need to be rescheduled or cancelled, kids may need to play in gyms of few or no fans, but we should do everything in our power to help these kids have a season."

Randy Storlie
Blair-Taylor High School of Dairyland Conference

"I would love to see us play and I believe everyone needs to have the season get going. I understand that for safety reasons if we can't go I will understand but we need to come up with an alternate season."


QUESTION 2
Should the WIAA come up with an alternate season/format for those schools opting out of the traditional November-March winter sports season? If yes, what is your suggestion?

Hunter Price
Big Foot High School of Rock Valley Conference

"No, for a few reasons. No. 1, COVID will still exist so if we can't play now, then what would change in the world that let us play later? No. 2, we can't let spring athletes miss that season again, they should take priority when it comes to the schedule. No. 3, AAU and high school basketball can't function at the same time. I know several AAU coaches who also coach in high school. A lot of players would be split on who to play for. It just doesn't work. It has to be now, safely."

Dan Burreson
Mineral Point High School of Southwest Wisconsin Athletic League

"In terms of equity and fairness, there should be an alternative season. However, since an alternative fall season has been created overlapping the spring already, that may not be possible at this point. The small schools are going to find the current alternative seasons difficult enough to manage as is." 

Ty Moseler
Milwaukee South High School of Milwaukee City Conference

"I don't think so. I don't think there is much that can be done in moving the winter season. We already have two seasons going on at the same time this spring. That would be tough on kids who play and coaches who coach multiple sports, facilities and officials/refs. Most kids are going to be playing AAU anyway."

Steve Collins
Madison Memorial of Big Eight Conference

"I suggest allowing accommodations similar to spring and fall sports. I think potentially increasing contact days to 15 and allowing unlimited virtual contact days, which could be sport specific to support development and mental health. I would also allow contact for schools that cannot complete winter up until the beginning of the 2021-22 school year for in-person development potentially lost. The possibly a May-June basketball season could be another option." 

Alex Olson
Milton High School of Badger South Conference

"As of now, I feel this would be extremely difficult without adjusting current athletics calendar. Any sort of season or appreciation that we can show our athletes we should explore." 

Damon James
Grafton High School of North Shore Conference

"This is extremely difficult, especially since spring/summer dates have already been pre-established for fall/spring sports programs that have opted for alternative sports seasons. We now may run into a situation in which the months available could be June and July. This would be competition with the AAU season, where in my opinion, high school basketball has tremendous potential to lose out  because of the enormous exposure opportunities given through quality AAU experiences." 

Cory Haese
Wrightstown High School of North Eastern Conference

"I do not believe the WIAA will offer, nor should they in my opinion, an alternative season for the winter teams that opt out of playing in November through March. Spring sports did not get a season at all last year, and offering another alternative season would have no choice but to impact spring sports immensely. I do believe, though, that an alternative sports season could be added by specific conferences or parts of conferences that opt out of playing during our specified season. This could be done at the local levels, in my opinion, if certain schools choose to do so."

Nick Bennett
Racine St. Catherine's of Metro Classic Conference

"This is tricky with logistics, cost, and interfering with other sport seasons. If a group of schools opt out of the traditional winter season, perhaps something could be done, but someone smarter than myself can put that calendar together."   

Ryan Brown
Medford High School of Great Northern Conference

"If we were to NOT have a season, it would be great to have an alternate season. I just don’t see where it would be possible with already having the fall alternative season. Ultimately, there is no end in sight with this virus. We could be kicking the can down the road for months or even a year or two. We should have the regularly scheduled winter season."

Randy Storlie
Blair-Taylor High School of Dairyland Conference

"I would like to see the season pushed back a bit at this point. I believe with the holidays coming we will not flatten the curve as much as we should. I believe we could have a season that starts after January 1st and runs to the end of March or beginning of April. I understand with the alternate fall season that would be a problem for a number of schools who didn't play fall sports, but for most of us, we have nothing going on from March 1st to almost the end of April."


QUESTION 3
Is it safe/proper for WIAA and/or local conferences to mandate the wearing of masks for competing players and all those in the gym for a game?

Hunter Price
Big Foot High School of Rock Valley Conference

"Yeah I don't see why not. I think it comes down to, it won't hurt to wear the mask so why fight it? It's uncomfortable and not natural, but we'll get used to it. We have to do whatever it takes to play. I've seen some bizarre rule proposals out there, but we'll do whatever it takes to play. My question is, how is it officiated? I, and other coaches, have a lot of questions. Is it treated like a fallen off shoe where the refs wait until a dead ball or score to blow to whistle, and then order masks to come up? Does the game get stopped every single time a mask falls down? What happens if players intentionally pull theirs down for a breather? I could ask a hundred more questions, but I still think they should inform us on how that will work. It'll definitely change how we coach. Our bodies weren't meant to hold onto CO2 and heat for long periods of time during exercise. We will need more subs than normal."

Dan Burreson
Mineral Point High School of Southwest Wisconsin Activities League

"I believe schools have the right to do so, and I believe that masks will be a requirement for many schools. We are in the midst of a once-in-a-century pandemic in the middle of winter in Wisconsin."

Ty Moseler
Milwaukee South High School of Milwaukee City Conference

"I think having the players wear masks isn't a good idea. Have fans, coaches, workers wear them, but players wearing masks I think would be too difficult for them. I am sure kids would do it so they can play, but trying to sprint constantly with a mask seems like it would be difficult for kids to breath properly. What happens when a kid wears it improperly? If it gets ripped off? Does play stop? Who enforces all this? Refs have enough to worry about. The bottom line -- it is a pandemic and there probably are no right or wrong answers. Everyone is going to suffer in some way this season."  

Steve Collins
Madison Memorial High School of Big Eight Conference

"It is my understanding that is it is the law to require wearing of masks indoors per the governor's order, and additional best practices indicate at least six-feet of physical distance maintained at all times. All of us need to follow the public health recommendations and science so we can get back to a more regular ability of school, sports, and society."

Alex Olson
Milton High School of Badger South Conference

"Wearing a mask as a spectator, I feel, is a must, and I hope districts adapt to this likely protocol for athletic events. Anything that we can do to negate a chance of spreading the virus we must do. As far as athletes wearing masks, we have been wearing masks throughout our fall open gyms. Although they can be uncomfortable for our players at times, our guys are more than willing to wear them during competitions this winter if we are able to compete. I think winter athletes would do just about anything so they could play this season, a mask mandate would be so minimal in their pursuit of a winter season." 

Damon James
Grafton High School of North Shore Conference

"This has been the great question of debate. One big question I would have for the WIAA/ local authorities is that if we mandate masks to be worn during intense, high energy cardiovascular exercise such as basketball, does the safety concerns move from COVID to lack of oxygen supply? I don't believe it is proper for the WIAA to mandate wearing of masks during the playing of basketball. I believe fans/spectators can wear masks while watching games, coaches can wear masks while coaching, and players who are on the bench can wear masks."

Cory Haese
Wrightstown High School of North Eastern Conference

"I know in Wrightstown that anyone in the gym for sure needs to be masked 100% of the time, which includes players, coaches, fans, officials, and event staff. Our District will not be wavering on that issue all school year, probably. The way I interpreted the WIAA Winter Sports Considerations is that as long as the statewide mask mandate is in effect, all WIAA-sponsored basketball events will include all players, coaches, fans, officials, and event staff in masks. I'm not a doctor so I have no opinion on whether it's healthy or not for a player to wear masks while playing. What I do know is that if the options are play with masks or not playing at all that my Wrightstown program will be in masks to play. We told our players that they have a choice to make, play with a mask or don't try out for a team if you don't want to wear a mask. It's actually pretty simple, in my opinion, as we are excited to play."

Nick Bennett
Racine St. Catherine's of Metro Classic Conference

"As long as it is the same rules acrross the board, we will work with it. I've seen film during the pandemic of AAU tournaments brining together teams/players from across the country inside a single venue. The players do not wear masks while playing. Coaches, fans and officials can and should wear masks. They seemed to manage this pretty well. I haven't heard of any issues where kids are becoming seriously ill from the AAU tournaments."

Ryan Brown
Medford High School of Great Northern Conference

"The simple answer, I don’t know. I have seen the studies saying that masks are safe and do not cause a loss of oxygen, but most of those have to do with everyday use. I have not seen (not to say they are not out there) studies that show that they are safe when used at high levels of exertion. From what I have seen in my physical education classes, kids become out of breath very quickly when using masks for high-intensity sports. Ultimately, my athletes are willing to do whatever it takes to play. If that means masks, then that is what we are willing to do. Hopefully there are no negative consequences from that decision."

Randy Storlie
Blair-Taylor High School of Dairyland Conference

"Our conference is making all players wear masks at all times at this point. I would like to see that the players on the court not wear masks, but once not playing, mask up again.

 

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