This week’s guests include WIAA Deputy Director Wade Labecki and WTMJ Brewers Extra Innings host Matt Pauley.
MIKE SPAULDING: WIAA releasing some guidelines for — and I’m sure parents are cheering right now — the return of youth sports starting this summer. Before we dig into some of the specifics in this plan, I just kind of wanted to get some background from you. How did this come to be?
WADE LABECKI: Well, you know, we have a sports medical committee that’s made up of 11 people and they’re real experts in this — in the areas of sports medicine. We’ve been working on this since May for our board of control to determine that we would open up, you know, our spring contact period in July and we would extend there. So we wanted to make sure that we had a plan in place for the schools if they needed one so they could provide opportunities to their kids.
MIKE SPAULDING: And this is for middle school through high school, right, 6th grade through 12th grade?
WADE LABECKI: Correct. We have — we have some middle school members who are 6th through 8th and then we have the high school members who are 9th through 12th.
MIKE SPAULDING: So, walk me through a little bit about — about this process. Was it nerve wracking just kind of being in such limbo here in the spring and waiting things out and, you know, hoping for the best? But I’d assume you’re kind of prepping for the worst a little bit.
WADE LABECKI: Right, the difficulty is this it’s such a fluid situation and everything is changing daily. You know, you find out that, you know, different blood types might be effected differently and, you know, the difference in how it affects the younger people versus the vulnerable people and that it was just changing so drastic — so dramatically. And then suddenly we had the Supreme Court decision which pretty much, you know, opened everything up except for schools and extracurriculars, so that gave us little bit of time. It’s been pretty intensive time commitment here. So, it was kind of a relief to get — to be able to get it out, because our members were getting anxious. They wanted to go ahead and some guidelines. And some of our schools have already had guidelines in place. So, you know, we took ideas from the CDC youth sports considerations, we took ideas from the NSHS and their guidelines, and we took it from several states. But we wanted to make sure that we could get the kids back and connected with their schools, their coaches, their teammates in a safe manner. And, you know, this is just guidelines. Schools can do what they feel is best for their county and for their situation and, you know, it’s just a — it’s not a mandate; it’s guidelines.
MIKE SPAULDING: I know you mentioned your medical board kind of being able to craft some of these — some of these guidelines. Was there also involvement, I mean, did you guys get these schools involved? Did you perhaps get some parents involved just to kind of gauge their temperature on how they’re feeling about stuff and how — how anxious are they to get back; how excited are they to get back; nervous?
WADE LABECKI: You know, we didn’t — there’s enough surveys and that out there for where the parents feel and the students, you know, what they feel. We left it to our medical experts, you know, and — but I do rules and eligibility, that’s where I work. So, I’m not a medical person, so we wanted our doctors to go ahead and provide the best guidelines and choose what’s going to be best in their situation. We have a doctor who works with the Packers. We have Kevin Walter who is at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee, and he’s been working with some — with the Brewers a little bit at Children’s Hospital. So, we have people who have a good background, but we really wanted the medical experts to weigh in on these guidelines.
You know, it’s important, I think, that people understand that with the isolation that the kids have been having, their physical fitness level is down dramatically. We have one of our members on our sports medical as a researcher and he’s working on a study right now, and the physical fitness level has dropped dramatically and the rate of depression has gone up dramatically. So, you know, the kids need to be connected and they need to start to get connected to their schools and have the support system that the schools do provide.
MIKE SPAULDING: You know, it’s not just the sport itself, you know, the 60 minutes inside the white lines, or whatever have you, this is also a much larger community. Knowing people who have students who are in high school, having to have gone through it myself, it’s a lot bigger of a deal than it is just showing up on a Saturday to play two soccer games and then you go home. I’m sure that also plays a role in people wanting to get back to this sort of, I don’t want to say, routine or community, but it kind of trends that way, it seems like.
WADE LABECKI: Yeah, and I think that’s what is — is, you know, the isolation that has dramatic effect and you miss that connectiveness to each other. And I think that’s, you know, where the kids are at.
But, you know, once again, we have to be able to do it safely, and that’s going to be the key. We’re hoping that the summer guidelines can transition into fall guidelines and we can demonstrate that, you know, if done properly, it can be done safely and it can be a healthy environment for the kids and hopefully we can get them into transition for practices in the fall and hopefully contests in the fall. But, again, it’s all down to what we can do safely. You know, La Crosse went from a high-risk level to a severe-risk level, in their county, so that was just overnight, so…it’s so fluid.
MIKE SPAULDING: So how does that work then? How do you decide — I know you said you use some of the CDC guidelines, but when you’re crafting rules for, if it’s students returning to play golf and returning to play football, those are two, you know, basically completely different worlds.
WADE LABECKI: Right, and when you look at the guidelines, the first section there deals with environmental or community risk levels. And at the high-risk level, means that, like I said, in La Crosse if there is a high-risk level then you go to low-exposure-types of practices. And that’s going to be, the kids are going to be by themselves, you know, you might hit a volleyball against the wall and you might shoot baskets by yourself, but you’re not going to be with others.
When you go into the moderate level, then you’re going to go ahead and be able to work with a partner or work into groups of five or ten and be able to socially distance and do drills. You’re going to disinfect the implements like the balls and everybody is going disinfect their hands. So if you’re going to throw a football, you know, the ball is going to be disinfected, the center is going to disinfect their hands, quarterbacks, so when they get the exchange, and then the receivers so when they receive the pass. But it’s all trying to minimize the risk. And then when you get to low, then you’re able to go ahead and have more of a team-type of practice. So, we have those risk levels.
Now, a sport like football is a high-risk sport, which is a different category. That’s how much that sport exposes you to catching the virus. Well, in football, you can also have different levels. So, you know, if it’s high where you’re having tackling and all that, that’s not going to be a — that’s not going to be allowed, but you can conduct a football practice within a high-risk level, it’s just what your drills are going to be are going to be different than if you go down to a low level.
So, playing a game though, that’s going to be different, football is going to be high risk compared to golf, like you said. You know, kids walk with their own golf bags, they can socially distance rather easily on a golf course. So, it’s a matter of what level and what your activity is going to be within that sport.
MIKE SPAULDING: So, we know what will change, you know, in the game a little bit in leading up to the game as far as practice goes. Should parents expect to see something different, and if so, what will the game day be like for a parent or a coach?
WADE LABECKI: You know, right now, we don’t even know. And that’s so far out, you know, it’s all going to depend on what their county level is at, what their county permits as far as gatherings and how many people can be gathered together. And, you know, once again, we defer to the experts in the medical field and health department. This plan, when we put it together, we were in contact with the governor’s office, we were in contact with the Department of Public Instruction, and we were in contact with the Department of Health Services. So, by working with all of them and being able to have them review the plan and to see our progress, it’s worked out well. You know, it’s a plan that I think positive for the kids. But right now, it’s so far off it’s hard to say what a contest will look like. But if you had a baseball game this summer, and, you know, if Waukesha County is up to a hundred in a gathering, you could have two teams playing, you can have an umpire there and you just socially distance. And, you know, the families stay together, but they socially distance from another family. You know, so those are all of the little things. And we’re going to be working on transitioning to competitions next. So now we’ve got this summer guidance, now we’re getting ready to work on the fall guidance.
MIKE SPAULDING: You know, how — how is it going to work when dealing with different leagues, different sports? I’m sure and — just anecdotally noting that some schools themselves, some high schools, would probably have more resources to allocate to, say, a football program, that would be able to do things like temperature checks and stuff like that. Is there a baseline for what WIAA hopes that the schools do before these activities take place? Is it temperature checks? Is it making sure every kid can get tested before a contest?
WADE LABECKI: Right, and one of the things that we did with this plan, and it’s based off of the NSHS plan, is that we’re going to ask that the coaches and the athletes temperature check at home, and if the temperature is a hundred and four or higher that they stay home. Because, you know, if you infect somebody, that means that the whole team is going to be held for 14 days. So that’s going to be the key. Some schools have the luxury of having a trainer and they can do the temperature checks when the kids arrive, that’s wonderful, but I don’t think you’re going to have that at every school. So, we’re going to have to rely on the families to do the — do the checks and check for symptoms before — before the kids come into practice.
MIKE SPAULDING: Will there be some sort of screening like an affidavit that people are going to have to sign or anything like that, or will it be up to schools and parents to use their discretion?
WADE LABECKI: Well, that will be a local decision. If the schools want to have some sort of a waiver or a notice of high-risk or something to that effect, then that’s for the school’s legal counsel. You know, those — I think the Supreme Court has held that those aren’t useable in court. So, it’s one of those things that schools have to check with their legal counsel to see what they want to do. But, you know, we have to rely on people to be honest and people to check themselves. And, you know, this is a — you have to have concern for your community members and for the others in your school and others on your team.
MIKE SPAULDING: I don’t — I don’t know how much time you spent thinking about this, and it seems somewhat, I guess, miniscule in the light of a public health pandemic, but say a member of a basketball team does test positive and that school has to miss a couple of games, has there been a thought of how would that be handled when it comes to state tournament time; when it comes to conference tournament time?
WADE LABECKI: You know, we have a rule that went into place because of the H1N1 back in 2009. And, you know, if a team is out for ten — seven to ten days, they have to practice for five days before the can resume. If they’re out for 14 days, they have to practice for seven days before they can resume, so we do have that rule in place. If it’s during a tournament, it would result in a forfeit because the tournament is going to go on. But we’re hoping that, you know, we can prevent that from happening because if somebody does come into practice and they’re — they do have — do turn up positive, then it’s going to be a 14-day — that’s what we’ve been seeing, you know, a 14-day quarantine. And that would affect them in the season. So hopefully, they will be aware of that.
You know, we also have a form in that plan for tracing, and we want to make sure that, you know, everybody who comes into a practice or comes to a contest, signs a sheet with their phone number and their county, so if something does pop up, that we can help the county or the local health departments trace and be able to notify people. So, it’s been a — it’s been interesting. It’s been a different experience, not one that you’re used to doing.
MIKE SPAULDING: Absolutely. I’ve just a couple more questions for you, Wade, one of them being —
WADE LABECKI: Sure.
MIKE SPAULDING: — being: Having athletes become acclimated with wearing perhaps a face covering or something along those lines who are going to be playing in the summer, because this goes into effect July 1, it’s hot outside, do you guys have guidelines on what you would — how you would like to see teams operate and kind of get through this process? Because that, to me, seems like something maybe lying under the radar a little bit, but once you’re out there on the field practicing, you’re going to realize it real quick.
WADE LABECKI: Right, and we have that in our assessing-the-risk factors to know your kids and to know what their physical condition is. They’ve been off, you know, since March, April, and May. They’ve been isolated. So, we do have some guidelines for getting acclimated to the weather. We have that for football and soccer already in the fall, but we do have that notice in there that they need to take into consideration what their condition, physical shape of their kids is. So, you don’t do as intense of a workout at the beginning, you know, so you’re going to have to gradually work into that.
We also have a lot of stuff on heat, because we’ve been — it’s been an interest in football, in fall sports, soccer. So, we do have a lot of information about the heat index and how you conduct your practices. Because if you’re — even if you’re playing baseball, the catcher and the umpire are in full gear, and in July it’s warm. So, you have to be ready for that, and in football, we’ve always had that, the climatization plan in there. So, every individual has to start out in helmets for two days, and then you go to helmets and shoulder pads for three days before you can get into the actual physical full gear. And we have the same plan in soccer. So, we do have some of that information available to them, and we point it out in the plan.
MIKE SPAULDING: Bigger picture sports-wise in the state of Wisconsin, youth sports-wide in the state of Wisconsin, do you think this is going to affect participation levels in sports at all? I mean, are there things that you’ve looked at kind of along those lines?
WADE LABECKI: Yeah, you know, there’s going to be people who want to go out and go full bore right away, and then there’s going to be people who are very hesitant. And I believe the Aspen Institute did a study on that, so that information is online. I think it was like 50 percent were, you know, hesitant a little bit and 50 percent were full ready to go. But within those 50 percent, it was only like 2.8 percent who said they would not participate, and about 13 percent that said that they were hesitant but, you know, would consider it. And then the rest of them were either neutral or they were a little hesitant but ready to go or they were full go. So, I think the numbers worked out that it was about 94 percent said that probably would participate. So it will be interesting to see where that shakes out, but, you know, you have to respect the — respect the choices that people make, and they have to make choices that are based on what’s best for them and their family. And, also, if grandma and grandpa are living in your home, they are going to be a little bit more hesitant to go out and, you know, participate, as opposed to, you know, somebody who doesn’t have that same situation. So those are things that every family is going to have to sit down and think about.
MIKE SPAULDING: As we see baseball go back and forth, seemingly all — all summer long, one of the ideas the proposed, I believe it was back all the way in March, was realigning divisions and trying to limit travel and who gets to play where. Did that come up as a topic of discussion at all at WIAA, or is that a league-specific issue?
WADE LABECKI: Well, it is — it’s one that’s been coming up. You know, different regions are going to be different. You know, up in Florence County, they don’t have as many cases of COVID as they do down in Milwaukee County. So, you know, it’s going to be basically determined by region and whether or not somebody’s comfortable leaving their county and going to another county. And the counties might have different rules and so forth with their — with their plans. So it’s — we’re — it’s kind of under consideration on what are you going to do when you have a conference and you’ve got five different counties and five different county health departments have, you know, different rules.
And it’s something that’s going to be looked at, but ultimately, it’s going to be, you know, what can the school do, you know, what can they do within their situation, so.
But, again, that’s in the fall, so we haven’t had a time — we haven’t had time to spend or devote to that topic as much as trying to get ready for the summer.
MIKE SPAULDING: I’m sure this answer then will be just like the previous one. Looking ahead to the fall, I wanted to ask you about this possible second wave. Has there been discussion around that possibly happening? I don’t want to jinx it or anything like that, but the possibility of postponing a season, of canceling a season, anything along those lines?
WADE LABECKI: You know, we’ve talked about that second wave, and is it going to come in September or is it going to come in December. And right now, you know, we don’t know. So, we’ve been kind of talking about it, but don’t have a plan yet, because it’s just changing so — you know, so often. But, yeah, we have had those discussions and what can — and what can we possibly seek. We’re doing contingencies, you know, do you start football on time; if you don’t start football on time, do you cut the first two games, conference games, out; can you go ahead and kind of round off for the football playoffs and still get in at Camp Randall. You know, so those — we’ve had a lot of different contingency thoughts going on, nothing really solid. We’re — we’re hoping that we can get the kids an opportunity. We want to give them hope. We want to — we want them to have some optimism and something to look forward to. It may change, it changed in the spring. We were hoping to get those in and, you know, that changed dramatically and we weren’t able to do that. So, we want to — we want to provide them something to look forward to, something to have hope for. Because, you know, like I said, the rates of the physical fitness and the rates of depression are so — so dramatic that we need to go ahead and give that little glimmer of hope to them. We don’t want to take it away if we don’t have to.
MIKE SPAULDING: Hey, Wade, before I let you go, parents who are interested in seeing some of these guidelines and the rules that you have laid out, the recommendations that you guys have laid out, where can they go find that information?
WADE LABECKI: That information is right online. We have a news article on the front page with WIAA summer guidance. It’s also on WIAA’s website at WIAAwi.org. You click on health, infectious diseases, and the guidelines are right there.