RIVER FALLS — Fall sports seasons are still on for River Falls High School, but with a host of new safety measures and high expectations for student athletes to behave responsibly.

In a divided vote Monday night, Aug. 24, River Falls School Board gave its approval for fall athletics to continue. The decision followed a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Control vote in August allowing districts to delay all or some fall sports over COVID-19 concerns.

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RFHS Athletic Director Rollie Hall presented on the district’s planning around fall sports as well as expectations for the approximately 180 students participating in soccer, volleyball and football, including face coverings, regular health checks and copious use of hand sanitizer.

“We’re not buying it by the bottle, we’re buying it by the gallon,” he said of hand sanitizer. “We have pump bottles of it all over the place.”

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Students also will have to change habits, Rollie continued. That means:

  • No spitting
  • No touching of the face
  • No handshakes, high-fives or fist bumps

“Traditions are out the door this year,” Rollie said.

Several River Falls students provided public comment at the start of the meeting, imploring the School Board to allow fall sports to move forward while assuring that they would follow safety measures. But board members struggled with weighing the social and emotional benefits of athletics with the potential risks of holding gatherings during a pandemic.

School Board President Stacy Johnson Myers later commended students for addressing the board, but called on them to follow through with their commitment to safety.

“The School Board is taking a risk, and we need you to help us mitigate the risk,” she said to students.

Pierce County Health Officer AZ Snyder had recommended postponing or canceling fall sports that don’t allow for proper distancing. In a statement Monday night to the Star-Observer, Snyder said the county health department will continue to work closely with the school district on safety measures and to control any outbreaks.

“Public Health and the RFSD are a team, and teammates don't leave each other in the cold just because we disagree,” Snyder said.

La Crosse and Eau Claire school districts postponed fall activities until spring 2021.

The earliest dates for high school competition are Sept. 15 for volleyball and soccer, and Sept. 23 for football.

In other news …

  • The final enrollment for River Falls School District’s virtual e-School is 373 students, according to a staff report. Nearly 40% of the enrolled students are in secondary school, with 78 from Meyer Middle School and 74 from River Falls High School. Orientation will be Thursday, Aug. 27, for secondary school students and Tuesday, Sept. 1, for elementary school students.
  • School Board approved an action authorizing the board president and superintendent to finalize an easement agreement with the Kinnickinnic River Land Trust, which seeks to purchase 44 acres of old-growth forest in the lower river canyon downstream from the city of River Falls. The community forest project will provide public access to the landlocked River Falls School Forest and connect it to Glen Park and River Hills Park.