Holmen High School’s football team has finished first or second in the Mississippi Valley Conference in four of the past five years.
There might not be a team that wants to play high school football more than the Vikings but Holmen coach Travis Kowalski doesn’t see it happening this fall.
COVID-19 ended high school state tournaments last winter. It shut down spring sports. Now, it has pushed fall sports to the brink.
Kowalski understands the dire circumstances, and is trying to communicate the harsh reality with his players and their families.
“I’m not an optimist and I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist,” Kowalski said on the Wisco Sports Show on WKTY. “That’s what I told the players and parents (Monday) night.
“I said, ‘Listen, we have to be in green (on the COVID compass) to play a football game in La Crosse County. We can’t change those rules and, unless things drastically turn, it’s gonna be a struggle for us to have a chance at a game. In my opinion, it’s absolutely unattainable.”
The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC), in which UW-La Crosse competes, cancelled its fall sports this week.
While this time of shutdowns and social distancing has taken its toll on students and student athletes, it hasn’t been easy for teachers and coaches either.
“This is the longest I’ve been away from Holmen High School in my 14 years of teaching, including summers,” Kowalski said, adding how he’s preached routine and discipline to his athletes over the summer in an effort to maintain some sense of normalcy. “I told my kids, ‘Get up at the same time in the morning. I still get up at 5:30 (a.m.) everyday, just like I’m going to school and to the weight room. If you don’t keep yourself in a routine, your body gets all out of whack.'”
Kowalski realizes that the loss of a football season could crush some of his athletes — especially seniors.
“If I would have been told my senior year of football was cancelled, ooof,” he said. “I probably would have shut down, I’m not gonna lie. I absolutely loved football, it was my favorite thing in the world.”
A loss of another season is especially devastating after athletes lost their spring seasons just months ago.
The last thing Kowalski wants is further damage to other sports in the future. Part of the WIAA Board of Control’s plan last week was the possibility of moving fall sports to the spring and spring to the summer.
“If the MVC moves football to spring, you overlap with spring sports and force kids to choose,” Kowalski said. “Our school is tight knit. Our coaches and sports do a lot of things together, and I don’t wanna drive a wedge in my community.
“If we could move football to the spring, but the rest of the state doesn’t, I would not be in favor of that. I think it would cause more harm than good in our community.”
The start date at this time for football is Sept. 7 — pushed back a month last week by the WIAA. If La Crosse County’s risk level doesn’t drop substantially by then, there will be no practices or games.
Given 20,000 college students will be returning to town in the coming weeks with a likely increase of COVID-19 spread, football seems like an impossibility.