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The Return to High School Football Brings Familiar Feelings With a New Look

After a delay to the start of the season, the move of 30% of teams to the spring, and uncertainty over whether the year would start at all, the 2020 high school football season got underway on Friday night, September 25th around the state of Wisconsin.

WisSports.net staff and contributors were out at a host of games, looking to not only take in the action on the field, but also the sights, sounds, experiences, and feelings of a very different Week 1.

The very first high school football game of the unprecedented 2020 season kicked off in Delafield, as Saint John's Northwestern Academies welcomed in Fall River/Rio. A 4 pm kickoff as the field at Saint John's does not have lights, it garnered plenty of attention, with multiple television cameras, a pair of reporters from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and several other distinguished guests in attendance. Needless to say, there was a high level of excitement all around about the start the season.

Joining WSN General Manager Travis Wilson at the game was Sun Prairie High School football coach Brian Kaminski, whose team has moved to the alternate spring season provided by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA), the state’s prep sports governing body. Upon arriving in the parking lot, Kaminski quipped, “I can feel the first-game butterflies just like it was our team going out there.”

The cadets at St. John's marched in shortly before kickoff, making the school one of the few that are allowing a student section, though most of the cadets milled around on the hillside opposite the bleachers. Fan attendance at the game did not seem significantly impacted, though the PA provided several reminders that masks were required.

Schools were provided a series of guidance documents by the WIAA as well as by the state’s Department of Public Instruction, but it is up to each school and/or conference to determine specific procedures. 

Mask requirements were a common theme in the experiences of our staff, with public address announcement, signs, and other reminders of the requirements at school facilities. Interestingly, the signage at Arrowhead High School indicated masks were required while moving around or outside the bleachers, but they were not required while seated in the bleachers. 

Muskego fans watch from behind the fence
Fans from visiting Muskego High School cheer on their team from behind the stadium fence

Most schools in the state are offering reduced spectator capacity, with two to four tickets per player the norm. While attendance inside the stadium at Arrowhead was limited, it didn't stop some intrepid fans from watching from just outside the fence. In fact, a spirited group of Muskego students cheered on the Warriors, with regular student section cheers and all, from one corner of the field. Similarly, WSN staff member Mark Miller and contributor Kyle Kern noted fans watching from behind stadium fences.

At halftime, the Arrowhead band took to the field to perform a medley of songs, as the parents of band members were allowed in to watch from the track. Arrowhead also had cheerleaders and dance team members present during the game.

Despite limited fans, those that were able to attend the game at West De Pere High School against Hortonville were loud and boisterous according to WSN Content Manager Norbert Durst.

Some football teams in Wisconsin are using splash guards that attach to the face mask, including the Darlington Redbirds. In addition, Darlington head coach Travis Winkers used rubber poly-spots to mark off two-yard intervals for players on the sideline to remain distanced.

While some of the logistical and administrative changes made things seem a bit different, the feel of high school football remained. The pads popped, there were big plays followed by big celebrations, and it felt like football. 

It felt like home.

Norbert Durst, Mark Miller, Dan Barwick, and Kyle Kern also contributed to this story.

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