The following article was originally published in NOW Newspapers under the "State of Play" feature, a series of bi-weekly feature columns penned by WSN General Manager Travis Wilson.
It is time for action! Call your state Senator! Contact your Representative! Let us all mobilize as part of a grassroots effort for meaningful change!
Ok, that was a little overly dramatic, but perhaps I’ve seen too many political appeals on Facebook.
There is a political action impacting high school sports, and Wisconsin schools in general, that could be coming that I feel is worthwhile to get behind however.
Legislation has been introduced and is currently going through the legislative process (Senate Bill 96; Assembly Bill 103) that would repeal the 2000 State Law that required public schools in Wisconsin to start on or after September 1st.
Originally advanced, lobbied for, and passed at the request of the tourism industry, the nearly two-decades old law allows businesses reliant on tourism to keep their summer help, often high school aged kids, employed longer and to help with the busy Labor Day holiday. Proponents say it also allows more families to take advantage of an extended vacation or mini-vacation over the Labor Day weekend.
However, the restrictions at the state level on school start dates are increasingly at odds with what local school districts feel is the best for their students.
One of the biggest arguments in favor of changing the current school start date and allowing local control of the matter is to allow more classroom instruction time for students taking exams in the winter and spring. All junior students in Wisconsin are required to take the ACT and ACT WorkKeys in February or March. Many students take Advanced Placement tests in early May, which are scheduled by College Boards.
Many feel Wisconsin students are at a disadvantage in these tests due to starting several weeks later than counterparts in other states, resulting in less classroom, learning, and preparation time.
Those are all valid arguments, and should be reason enough to make the change. However, as a prep sports media outlet, the athletics perspective is what we’ll focus on.
Much has been made in recent years of the challenges facing high school football, from concussions to heat-related illnesses to injury rates. These have manifested in reduced participation in many areas, especially youth football, though an analysis of participation rates at the high school level in Wisconsin over the last two decades shows no significant change yet.
One of the challenges many people feel will continue to impact the game is the start date of practices at the high school level. When the WIAA understandably removed the three-games-in-ten-days situation at the end of the season a few years ago, the result was to shift the start date back one week. Instead of practices beginning the second week of August, they now start the very first week of August, and would have begun the last day of July a couple of years had the WIAA not set an August 1st start date, which was really just for optics.
There is no doubt that starting that early does not help the sport or its participation numbers, though how big of an impact it actually has remains a bit of a question mark. Anecdotally, many veteran coaches suggest it is impacting not only player numbers, but the involvement of younger coaches, who are finding it tougher and tougher to give up an extra week in the summer.
With football practices starting the first week of August, with boys soccer and girls volleyball starting a couple weeks later, it now means that many contests are now happening before school is even in session. In football, three games (one-third of the regular season) are played before the students are in school. It is hard to get students organized, involved, and excited about coming to games prior to school start, negatively impacting overall attendance and thus income for local schools.
While an August 1st practice start date isn’t ideal, I’ve long said that in Wisconsin we have a school start date problem, not a football start date problem. Allowing schools to decide when is the best date to begin classes would alleviate many of the current issues. If school started sometime during the week of August 21st this year, as it often used to, there would be less than three weeks of football before school starts, and only one game. The complaints about starting “too early” would be significantly mitigated.
Tourism is an important part of Wisconsin history, tradition, and economy, but it is in the best interests of schools, students, and student-athletes for the state to allow local control of the start date. If you agree, use this tool to find your State Senator and Representative, and send them the email below (constructed by the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association): http://maps.legis.wisconsin.gov/?single=y
Dear Senator _______/Representative _______________:
Please know that I would like you to vote YES for Senate Bill 96 (SB96)/Assembly Bill 103 (AB103), which will give local control to the individual school districts for their school start date.
I feel that the September 1st start date hinders the performance of school districts around the state by not allowing individual districts to establish their own start dates.
My reasoning for requesting this is twofold...academic and co-curricular:
Thank you for your time and anticipated YES vote on the appropriate bill (AB103 / SB96).
For the latest and most up to date football news and recruiting information, follow Travis on Twitter @travisWSN. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Travis at travis(at)wissports.net.