As schools across the Northland continue to navigate the return of athletics amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Superior High School has pushed itself to provide the best sanitation possible.

For activities director Ella Olson, the mission of keeping athletes, staff and parents safe is one placed in the hands of all involved.

“I think we’re putting a lot on our coaches and players, too, to be very mindful of what they’re doing, washing their hands and generally taking care of things,” Olson said. “As far as the gym goes, we’re clearing out between varsity and JV games. Our parents who are coming into the games are sitting 6 feet apart with marks on the seats. Another thing we’re doing is just keeping quite a bit of space between fans and the [gym] floor.”

Olson also emphasized that athletic environments are being cleaned as thoroughly as any other part of the school.

“Our custodial staff is coming in and using the same cleaning supplies and equipment as they do to clean lunch tables and what teachers use in classrooms between classes. We’re disinfecting the bleachers and also the benches that each team is sitting at.”

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The precautions extend to locker rooms, as well, with the varsity teams using the home room, JV teams using the away room, and visiting teams using a new area created in the lobby.

Mark Ellis, left, sprays down the bleachers as Superior High School assistant principal Bill Punyko helps scrub off the seats between the JV and varsity girls basketball games at Superior High School on Jan. 14. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Mark Ellis, left, sprays down the bleachers as Superior High School assistant principal Bill Punyko helps scrub off the seats between the JV and varsity girls basketball games at Superior High School on Jan. 14. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

The Spartan hockey teams play at Wessman Arena, which is overseen by Wisconsin-Superior. Olson said the university's cleaning protocols are similar to the high school's.

“If you look at our policies, they’re pretty much identical, so a lot of the precautions are there for cleaning all the areas between games," she said.

Olson didn't know the exact costs for the extra sanitation measures, but said funds from the district's federal Coronavirus, Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act dollars has been used.

Throughout the pandemic, Olson said she consistently felt she had the resources she needed.

Megan Zomerfelt, left, helps Mark Ellis as he sprays down the bleachers at Superior High School between the JV and varsity girls basketball games on Jan. 14. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)
Megan Zomerfelt, left, helps Mark Ellis as he sprays down the bleachers at Superior High School between the JV and varsity girls basketball games on Jan. 14. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

“I do know we feel supported,” she said. “I’ve never had to beg our custodians for more supplies or more sanitizer or spray. We all know it’s a high priority.”

Boys basketball coach and math teacher Jacob Smith can speak to the high school's journey through COVID-19 on multiple fronts. While teaching and coaching amid the pandemic, Smith found himself battling the virus in October.

After his bout with the virus, Smith wanted school district leaders to have a real plan for safety and sanitation in place before he would sign off on a return to play, he said. They came through.

When student-athletes enter the building, they scan a QR code on their smartphones and answer a series of screening questions. Then they get their temperatures taken. After practice, they wipe down equipment and keep their distance from one another, in addition to the rest of the protocols in place.

Following his recovery, Smith said he has done what he can to emphasize the seriousness of the situation to his students. The virus hit him particularly hard.

“I think my symptoms were a bit more severe than the typical person who gets it," he said. "I’m a young, healthy guy, but I was probably the sickest I’ve ever felt in my life. I had trouble breathing and no energy, so basically the point I wanted to get across with my team is that we’re all happy we can get together to play, but it’s important to follow these protocols and keep our masks up at all times, standing apart when possible, washing our hands, taking care of all those little things.”