Prep sports: Bayfield County ban leaves Solon Springs looking for games

County extends restriction on sporting events for another 60 days

Solon Springs’ Kyra Latvala (11) serves in the fouth game of the Eagles' 3-1 loss to Mellen in September 2019 in Solon Springs. The Eagles are scrambling to put more games on their schedule after Bayfield County officials restricted travel for athletic teams because of COVID-19. (2019 File / Superior Telegram)

Indianhead Conference athletic directors heard rumblings last week that Bayfield County might extend its ban on interscholastic competitions, but it didn’t become official until the county sent out a news release the evening of Monday, Sept. 28, sending schools scrambling to fill games.

Turns out, Northwood/Solon Springs was in Luck, literally, as the Evergreens found an opponent for a 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, game at Luck — the defending Wisconsin eight-player football champions.

“This has certainly been a challenging fall, and we’re just getting started with it,” Solon Springs athletic director Nate Ahlberg said. “Now that this order has come out, we’re kind of having to blow up the schedule and start all over again.”

For Solon Springs, Monday’s announcement hits volleyball the hardest.

Volleyball started on Sept. 8, but Bayfield County schools already were restricted on playing until Oct. 1. The latest order, citing a rise in COVID-19 cases in the county, extends that restriction by 60 days, wiping out any chance of interscholastic competition for Bayfield County unless teams play all their games on the road, as South Shore is doing.


The revamped Indianhead Conference schedule called for the 10 conference teams to play each other once, so nine conference matches before playoffs.

“It was an ambitious plan to try to get all those in, in roughly 20 or so days,” Ahlberg said.

For Solon Springs, the four schools in Bayfield County are the closest teams the Eagles play. Now, Mellen ends up being their closest opponent, and that’s an hour and a half away. The other four schools are two-plus hours away.

“Now, we’re kind of on an island,” Ahlberg said.

The latest plan calls for the remaining conference schools to play each other twice, with home and away contests.

“We’re certainly on the far end of that, but all those schools are going to have to make at least one trip to Solon Springs during this time, as well,” Ahlberg said. “Obviously, we miss playing some of those closer schools like Drummond, our closest conference school. We’ve always had good games with them, but we just won’t be able to have that now.”

Like so many during this pandemic, Ahlberg has tried to focus on the positives.


Solon Springs’ Allie Nordskog (2990) was the Eagles’ top finisher at the John Woodbury Invitational at Norwood Golf Course in Lake Nebagamon in September 2019. Unlike football and volleyball, the Eagles's cross-country team was able to start competing earlier this fall, making the travel restrictions in Bayfield County slightly less of an obstacle. (2019 File / Superior Telegram)

While some schools have struggled simply to try to get a single event in, Solon Springs/Northwood cross-country has already got five meets in.

Five meets? Before October? During COVID?

In this day and age, that’s almost a miracle.

“I know,” Ahlberg said. “Our administration was great in allowing us to seek out meets and get our kids running. Many of our meets in September were canceled, so I had to ask around, and the Lakeland Conference schools were very accommodating.”

It’s not just Bayfield County, of course.

Northwood/Solon Springs football’s first two games will be against opponents who weren’t originally scheduled. Instead of Luck, this week the Evergreens were supposed to play Washburn, the only Bayfield Country school in their eight-player football conference.

“We kind of anticipated that we weren’t going to play football against Washburn, so we actively tried to seek out another team to play,” Ahlberg said.


There’s a lot of shuffling going on here, but the good news for ADs is that there are other teams looking for games, just like them, and they're all ready to travel.

“It’s disappointing, but the good thing is we’re going to get to play,” Ahlberg said. “As things started to get closer to fall we weren’t sure what was going to happen, so the fact that we’re going to at least get to play, our girls are excited about that and cross-country is excited to be able to run. It’s just that we have to travel a little bit farther to get to those meets and those games.

“Our administration worked well in just saying, ‘Whatever opportunity we can provide our kids, let’s do it.’”

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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