Loss of WIAA spring sports takes dreams from athletes and tourism dollars from La Crosse

WIAA cancels spring sports season; more than $2 million hit to La Crosse economy from canceled state track and field championships
WIAA cancels spring sports
WIAA cancels spring sports and La Crosse loses 2020 WIAA State Track and Field Championships. Explore La Crosse estimates the economy will lose more than $2 million in economic impact.

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – The decision to cancel the spring sports season means thousands of visitors will not come to La Crosse for the state track and field meet. Director of sports sales, Jeremiah Burish, at the La Crosse Convention and Tourism Bureau, says this will take dollars away from the La Crosse community and dreams from young athletes.

“It was always the pinnacle of any athlete’s careers,” Burish said.

Roger Harring Stadium on the campus of UW-La Crosse served as the stage of the WIAA State Track and Field Championships testing the heart of a champion.

“It’s loud,” Burish said. “It’s just an incredible experience.”

The bleachers are packed with 20,000 people over two days cheering on 3,000 high school track and field athletes as they go for gold.

“This is the largest sporting event the area hosts,” he said.

The year 2020 has not been the year for the athlete. Earlier this spring, March Madness was canceled along with the NBA, PGA, MLB, NHL, and many others, suspending its seasons. The WIAA state basketball tournaments were also canceled.

The list is painful. We can now add the entire Wisconsin high school spring sports calendar to the list, after a decision by the WIAA Tuesday morning.

“Obviously that is a huge loss to the community,” Burish said.

This news means no state track and field meet. That is another blow to the sports world and a big financial shot to the heart of La Crosse’s economy.

Burish said the event brings in between $2 million and $2.5 million to the community. He said the domino effect of canceled mass gatherings show this pandemic is bigger than sports.

“It really brings light to how massive this pandemic is,” Burish said.

He said he understands what this is taking away from our community and young athletes.

“I think it especially hits me hard,” he said. “I was an athlete here at UW-La Crosse and I competed here for four years at the state meet in high school when I came here.”

Burish was a 4-time NCAA National qualifier as a pole-vaulter and a 5-time NCAA Track & Field Academic All-American at UW-La Crosse. He said the state meet was always one of his favorite memories.

“It was always fun for me,” he said. “I loved seeing all of those people into such an incredible thing you work so hard for.”

He now coaches at Viterbo University and a lost season for his team hurts that much more.

“To have all that work lost, it is really really hard,” Burish said. “I really empathize. I can’t sympathize with them enough on how hard that must have been, how hard that is and continues to be.”

But as former NFL quarterback Tony Romo once said, “If something in sports is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you’ve lived a pretty good life.”

Burish understands this will take time for young high school student-athletes to process. He said there is an opportunity to learn and grow from this difficult situation. He said how we respond as a community will make all the difference in the end.

“Adversity is a really telling thing for anybody,” Burish said. “Hopefully we can come together, and handle it really well, and come out better and stronger than ever.”

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