Door County School Districts Split on Sports

by Mike Shaw

The Packerland Conference did not get an all-for-one answer to its recommendation to carry on with fall prep sports as normal, with some safety precautions attached.

Wisconsin’s 513 high schools had until Sept. 1 to declare whether they were in or out for fall sports.

In Door County, Sevastopol and Southern Door chose to play all fall sports, but Sevastopol did not have the final say on boys soccer and will be sitting out that campaign.

Sturgeon Bay decided to move its contact sports – football, volleyball and boys soccer – to a newly created spring season that’s meant to accommodate those who felt uncomfortable with COVID-19. Gibraltar mirrored Sturgeon Bay and will participate in cross-country only this autumn, forcing the hand of Sevastopol – its co-op partner – on soccer.

Door County in Minority in Moving Seasons to Spring

Depending on the sport, the alternate spring seasons run in roughly seven-week windows between Feb. 15 and May 3, partly overlapping the end of some winter postseasons and the start of spring practices. Fall sports that do not reach their halfway point – either in number of competitions or the designated Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) calendar, whichever comes first – may still move the rest of their schedules to the spring.

Practices or meets for noncontact fall sports are already underway in the state. Practice for contact sports could have begun Sept. 7, and the first Packerland head-to-head events are scheduled for Sept. 15.

The lowest participation rate for any fall sport statewide will be girls swimming and diving (63 percent of all teams), according to figures from the governing organization, the WIAA. Even highly physical contact sports such as volleyball (75 percent) and 11-player football (68 percent) will take the court or field in numbers that are at least two-thirds the norm.

Only nine teams across the entire state plan to play eight-player football in the spring instead of fall, and three of them are Packerland members: Gibraltar, Sturgeon Bay (an independent for football) and Green Bay NEW Lutheran.

Door County received some good news Sept. 2 when the peninsula’s coronavirus risk level dropped from high to medium in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ weekly ratings. 

All four of the county’s mainland school districts adopted that downgrade as a prerequisite for playing any fall sports. The catch is that the county teams may not host or travel to any opponents within a high-risk territory – which described 64 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties as of Sept. 2 – so finding out-of-county competitors could prove difficult.

“I appreciate having that metric,” said Sturgeon Bay Athletics Director Todd Meikle. “Maybe some parents in the community don’t, but we don’t know all the answers to this pandemic. Playing it safe is the way to go.”

The latest WIAA monthly bulletin, put out in August, lays out a regular postseason tournament calendar for fall sports, albeit downsized. The only substantive change is two rounds of playoffs instead of five for 11-player football, Packerland Commissioner Mike Holtz said. There’s no word yet on qualifying criteria for the football playoffs, he said.

But there does not appear to be any state-championship opportunities for fall teams playing in the spring, such as Clippers soccer. The WIAA bulletin refers ambiguously to an undetermined “innovated … tournament format or culminating event.”

Sturgeon Bay plans to compete this fall in cross-country, girls swimming and girls golf if the local risk level stays steady, but higher threats elsewhere may limit the athletes to intrasquad events or county-only opponents. The Clippers belong to the Bay Conference for swimming and golf but have not joined any competitions yet due to the health restrictions. 

At Sevastopol, Athletics Director Brooke Tanck may have been given the green light for eight-player football, but it didn’t end her headaches. 

The sponsoring Marinette-Oconto/Northern Lakes/Packerland Conference earlier divided into three regional “pods” to limit travel during the pandemic, she said, only to see Gibraltar and Oneida Nation/NEW Lutheran drop out.

Tanck said nearly all of her sidelined soccer players joined the football team, creating the possibility for an exceptionally rare four-sport athlete. In addition, four Sevastopol girls swim with the Sturgeon Bay co-op team, but they must follow the lead of the Clippers and the Bay Conference there, Tanck said.

Holtz said the end-of-season conference cross-country meet, which determines the league champ, will be split into two days – one for boys, one for girls – to avoid larger crowds. Similarly, volleyball will not hold a league meet but will hand out the conference trophy based on win-loss standings.