Prep Football’s Spring Fling

by Tim Froberg

photo by Nate Perry Photo

photo by Nate Perry Photo

Wisconsin high school football and September go together like ice fishing and February.

But things will be much different this year. Friday Night Lights will shine during the spring months.

An unwanted game-changer known as COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with lives, families, jobs, and schedules, creating a new normal in so many different aspects. High school sports haven’t been spared. Due to the global pandemic, area prep football teams like Appleton North, Appleton East, Appleton West, and Kimberly will launch delayed seasons late this month after electing to not play during the fall.

The governing body known as WIAA (Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association) gave high schools their choice last summer of when to play fall sports schedules. Various schools like Xavier, Kaukauna, Little Chute, Hortonville, and Fox Valley Lutheran went ahead with fall sports and tried to play seven-game football schedules. Some succeeded in doing that while others, like Kaukauna, had to shut down the season early after players tested positive for the coronavirus.

Many school districts — including those in the Appleton, Oshkosh, and Green Bay — opted to wait until spring to compete in fall sports such as football, soccer, volleyball, and cross country.

As a result, prep football will be played for the first time in state history during the months of March, April, and May. Seven-game schedules are in place, and most schools kick off football seasons on March 26.

Call it prep football in the bizarro world, but then again, nothing has been normal in the past year.

“It’s exciting to just have a season,” said Kimberly coach Steve Jones, who heads up perhaps the state’s premier prep football program. “As coaches, the biggest thing for us is to try and create as many experiences and memories as we can for these kids, especially the seniors.”

Players such as Kimberly senior linebacker Damon Loker have been waiting for months to participate in the game they love and will soon be rewarded for their patience.

“Guys were upset when we found out we couldn’t play last fall,” said Loker. “But once we understood that you can’t control the uncontrollable, we started looking for positives. We’re getting a season with the boys that wasn’t promised as the beginning of the year.”

Kimberly, which has won seven WIAA state championships — including five in a recent six-year span — will step outside its usual Valley Football Association to play in the five-team Fox Valley Classic B League along with Appleton North, Appleton East, Appleton West, Pulaski, and Ashwaubenon. A two-game playoff system is part of the seven-game schedule.

“There are a lot of different things we’ll have to deal with,” said Jones. “My guess is that we’re going to have snow — maybe quite a bit of it — for some of our games. Another thing is that some of the spring sports like softball, baseball, and track usually start in the middle of April, so you’re going to have another dynamic when it comes to facility use.”

A little snow won’t bother Loker. If the white stuff flies during Kimberly games, he’ll view it as a treat.

“That would be great,” Loker said. “The opportunity to play in a blizzard would excite anyone.”

Jones sums the oddity of prep football in March and April as an opportunity to make the best of a bad situation.

“That’s what life’s about,” said Jones. “You have to respond to situations and play the cards you’re dealt.”