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After lost opportunity, WIAA state meet back and much needed for athletes, region



FILE - Onalaska's Landon Peterson competes in the 110 hurdle preliminaries May 31, 2019, at the WIAA state track and field meet at UW-La Crosse.

Imagine not knowing it would be your last time competing at state.

For a whole class of athletes, that was the harsh reality last year.

A new class of seniors heads into this weekend’s state high school track and field meet at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse knowing full well this will be an event to be cherished.

For over 30 years, state has been held in La Crosse — 30 years minus one. The La Crosse region lost out on about $2 million in visitor spending without the state meet, while seniors lost a lifetime of memories.

“The track meet is definitely one of the largest events for us for economic impact,” Explore La Crosse executive director AJ Frels said, adding, “When you look at direct visitor spending from 2019 to 2020, there was a reduction of $85 million in La Crosse County alone, for total reduction of La Crosse visitor spending.”

at UW-La Crosse’s Veterans Memorial Stadium Complex
11 a.m. start (meet guide)
THURSDAY: Division 3
FRIDAY: Division 2
SATURDAY: Division 1

This year’s state meet will be a bit different. Instead of a two-day event, with championships held in all divisions on that final Saturday, each division will compete on its own in a one-day meet — something not all that out of the ordinary for the athletes.

“It’s different for us as coaches, all of us have been to state multiple times with kids from our team,” Logan High School coach Joe Hackbarth said. “It’s not going to be a lot different for the kids.

“In fact, in some ways, it’s going to seem more normal because traditionally the state track meet is the only meet that lasts two days, otherwise all other meets we go to are one day.”

The honor of getting to state will still be there, but the atmosphere of competing in the championship, with a huge crowd, will not be — though only a few athletes will recognize that fact.

“It’s not different to them because it is completely new,” Hackbarth said.

Only the few talented freshmen and sophomores from two or three seasons ago that made state will understand the difference on the track.

The crowd will be limited, as each school will only be allotted five tickets per qualifying athlete. Tickets are $11, plus a processing fee.

Having lost out on millions last year and a new format, it makes the recovery hard to predict.

“We don’t know exactly what to expect, as this plays out,” Frels said. “To give you an estimate or to be able to look into that crystal ball of where exactly it’s going to land, is hard for us to do at this time.”

Having a single-day meet for each division is not perhaps the most ideal, but Hackbarth didn’t see many better options.

“I think given the other potential formats we could’ve had for state this year,” he said, “I think this is the best they were able to come up with. I don’t see this as a long-term way of sticking with state.”

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