The Saratoga Sun -

A whole new game

Under new restrictions, fall sports will look different for fans and athletes


August 26, 2020

Mike Armstrong

HEM Athletic Director is happy to have kids back in school and practicing sports but is aware it could all change.

Russ Wiggam, athletic director for Hanna, Elk Mountain, Medicine Bow (HEM) High School, is happy that students are getting to practice for fall sports.

Earlier this summer, high school sports being allowed to be played, was not a given.

"There was a huge amount of uncertainty before hand," Wiggam said. "Are we going to do it, or are we not; to what level are we going to do it and we aren't."

Wiggam said he was hopeful the schools would get to open back up.

"We were all going, 'oh please let us get back into the classroom,'" Wiggam said. "We are so much more effective as teachers face to face with the kids than we are over a computer."

He appreciates that online education has its uses.

"The Zoom meetings are a great stop gap, but that is what it is. It doesn't replace the opportunity of being able to just relax and spontaneously ask questions and get questions from the kids," Wiggam said. "To me, it (online education) doesn't replace it (classroom education) at all."

Wiggam realizes not all parents and students are comfortable with the classroom setting for education.

"We have a student that wants to go online and not come to school, but wants to play sports. How do we monitor and get eligibility requirements covered?" Wiggam pointed out. "Mr. Priest (principal of HEM) said we will work it out, and we will, but these times are unprecedented."

Wiggam said sports being played this year are going by the guidelines set up by the Wyoming High School Activities Association (WHSAA). The WHSAA is following the recommended guidelines of the National Federation of State High School Association and Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.

These guidelines are what Carbon County School District No 2 (CCSD2) are following for fall sports, but the rules do not guarantee a full season in any sport.

"At any given moment, they (WHSAA) can pull the plug and we are done," Wiggam said. "So we are all on pins and needles, and not really relaxed because we are wondering from day to day, 'are we going to be playing tomorrow.'"

In addition to being the HEM athletic director, Wiggam is the assistant coach for girls volleyball.

He is excited by how many girls have turned out to play.

"We have 17 girls this year," Wiggam said. "That is a good turnout."

The first game the girls play will not be the usual Lingle Invite.

"Originally we were going to the Lingle tournament, but now no tournaments are allowed," Wiggam said. "So we are going to Lingle and we are going to play them at noon, then we are going to Southeast and playing them around three in the afternoon."

Wiggam sees a silver lining with the new guidelines of no tournaments.

"The thing is this year with our numbers being high for girls wanting to play, without these tournaments, because they were going to be varsity only tournaments, now we have more opportunities for JV games. We have 15 JV games scheduled this year and that is more games than the last three years combined. This is an awesome opportunity, in this sense, that our kids get more involved with the game and they are excited about it."

Wiggam knows the indoor games are going to be challenging for fans to attend sometimes.

"We have plans for the indoors games that have the limit at 144 spectators to be allowed inside the gym at one time," Wiggam said. "I am glad we are able to play given that if you look down south in Colorado, volleyball and football are canceled. They have softball, golf and tennis. All are social distancing sports that are played outside. It makes a big difference right now."

Wiggam said the school district is taking a lot of precautionary steps to keep the health of the students and staff safe from the virus.

"We are doing a daily monitor list on all our kids," Wiggam said. "We asking them if they are feeling good, and immediately if someone is not feeling well, we take their temperature and if it is bad, they are out. Then we start watching everybody else, just to make sure."

He said the football coaches are telling the players to be cautious where they go although the first game is still a few weeks away.

"Cliff Jones (assistant HEM football coach) at the end of football practice warned the boys that, as the weekend comes up, they will be tempted to go to Laramie and other places," Wiggam said. "He told them they have to be careful because if you bring it back, you could spread it to everybody. So we are talking to the kids, we are checking them and doing a lot of stuff. It is frustrating because we can't relax because these guidelines are there to keep everyone safe."

Wiggam said although the enjoyment of the game students play might be harder to attain under all the guidelines, he believes communication between all helps ease the situation.

"I think as long as we keep students informed and communicate with them, we say what we are doing and why we are doing it, makes a big difference," Wiggam said. "We have to look at the big picture, and that is, the individual has to be looking out for teammates, people in the school, teachers and everyone they come in contact with."

He said student athletes are happy to be playing after sports was canceled in spring.

"They have been dying to get out there." Wiggam said.

Wiggam said that he still wants fans to come if possible.

"One thing we are doing to help fans see the activities is we are in the process of getting a video system that is a national feed video system with the NFHS network," Wiggam said. "We have it kind of hooked up at the football field and we will get it here at the gym. It is something each of the schools in the district are getting. Once we get it hooked up we will let everyone know."

Wiggam reiterated his message for students and fans.

"Communication is what is going to get us all through these times."


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