As Tom Shafranski looked into the camera on his computer Tuesday and watched the WIAA Board of Control take historic action via a Zoom video conference call, the WIAA assistant director who oversees golf had his own reminder on the desk next to him of the significance the decision to cancel spring sports competition and the WIAA tournament series had for boys golf.
"I had the (WIAA) Yearbook sitting next to me the whole meeting thinking about that," Shafranski said via telephone, when asked if he ever imagined the Wisconsin state high school boys golf tournament being canceled for the first time since 1944 and only the fourth time in the last 97 years. "Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine this would be something we'd be dealing with in 2020."
After hearing input from several advisory liaisons — including WIAA medical committee representative Dr. Kevin Walter, the program director for Pediatric and Adolescent Sports Medicine at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin — all speaking to the immediate hurdles to starting the spring sports season, the WIAA Board of Control voted 10-1 to cancel programming in the seven spring sports it sponsors due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
In doing so, however, the board authorized 30 days of unrestricted summer contact for spring sports coaches — if state orders allow for that after current restrictions expire June 30 — to permit teams to hold practices and competitions in local school districts.
WIAA executive director Dave Anderson praised the board for giving his staff time to explore "all the best-case scenarios we could imagine" for preserving some semblance of a spring sports season, especially for those student-athletes for whom springs sports is "their main deal." Ultimately, restrictions in place via Gov. Tony Evers' safer-at-home order and the likelihood that any attempt to offer a spring season, let alone a state tournament series in each sport, after that order is lifted would be complicated at best.
"I tried to wade through what is political — what is the good guidance of the medical community — and wanted to make certain I'm not missing an opportunity for these kids," Anderson told the board, saying he wanted to make sure "we are following the best practices and expectations."
From a medical standpoint, Walter told the board that current shelter-at-home and social-distancing practices have helped limit the number of reported cases of the coronavirus and perhaps created a hint of optimism that a delayed spring sports season could be an option. However, he said "there is legitimate concern" among his colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin that reinstating activities such as interscholastic sports too quickly runs the risk of increasing those numbers.
Schools have been closed since March 18 as districts have converted to online and alternate forms of instruction. Evers' most recent safer-at-home extension ordered schools to remain closed through the end of the school year and suspended all extra-curricular activities through June 30.
"My inclination would be that (the window for) the standard spring sports season as we know it probably closed," Walter said. "Do you delay the spring sports season and move it into summer? That's an option. I don't know when in summer that would be available.
"Things to think about as you look at (Evers') Badger Bounce Back Plan, there are face masks (required) for Phase 1 and 2. If we have athletes out in public, a golfer can probably wear a face mask, but are we going to ask a baseball player who is sprinting around the bases or girls soccer players, how are they going to have that face mask on and be able to breathe and communicate effectively?"
In addition, Walter told the board, requirements for equipment cleaning and physical distancing remain in effect for the foreseeable future. He also warned of the risk of "person-to-person contact" and how that also differs from sport-to-sport.
"The spit. The sweat. Things along those lines," Walter said. "Minimizing that in a sport like golf is relatively easy. Minimizing that in a sport like soccer or softball is incredibly difficult."
Even the provision that the board approved, relaxing unrestricted summer contact rules for spring sports coaches if activities include student athletes in the Class of 2020, comes with a set of concerns, according to Walter.
He said the fitness level of the athletes is perhaps the greatest concern considering that even those who played a winter sport have been away from competition for more than a month now. Also, a delayed spring season would take place in the heat of summer during July and August, meaning that spring coaches will be required to adhere to acclimatization rules in place for fall sports and, Walter told the board, will "need to respect things like pitch counts and rest days" if organized activities are offered before the start of the 2020-21 school year.
"We just can't compress the schedule into an abbreviated time," Walter said. "We still need to follow those rules for athlete safety ... in addition to whatever would happen for COVID safety."
Shafaranski acknowledged that while golf courses will officially reopen starting Friday, it remains to be seen when tournament golf will be allowed again per terms of the governor's order that address large gatherings.
He said he would welcome input from boys golf coaches and the Golf Coaches Association of Wisconsin on ways to utilize the 30 unrestricted contact days. Shafranski said those could include a senior showcase event or other competitions at the conference or regional level that might help replace opportunities that were lost with the cancellation of the traditional season.
"A senior showcase would certainly be an option, depending on local-level allowances," Shafranski said. "Obviously, all of this has so much dependency on where folks are at. There wouldn't be any resistance on our part. In fact, we'd be looking to work with them ... on how we could make some good things happen.
"Those things are thoughts in mind, first for the seniors and finding a way to have some conclusion for them for four years of dedicated service. There are so many kids who looked to this year for their state tournament opportunity and that isn't going to happen.
"And, certainly for the other golfers, to be able to maintain some form of contact and maintain some opportunity to continue development of their skills."