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High school track and field: La Crosse coach deals with loss of season

High school track and field: La Crosse coach deals with loss of season


There are some coaches and officials from the Coulee Region who have been connected to the WIAA state track and field meet in its current form — on the campus of UW-La Crosse — since the current era of the meet began in 1990.

Their traditions are a little different than those who travel to the area from around the state, but they are nearly as set in stone and probably much more extensive.

Joe Hackbarth


Logan High School boys track and field coach Joe Hackbarth remembers his eyes being opened the event as a senior from Oconomowoc in 1991.

What he saw that weekend and has seen in just about every year since puts not having the event at all in perspective.

“I’d never been to a meet with that many people, and you can tell people what it will be like, but until they experience it themselves, they don’t understand,” said Hackbarth, a state qualifier and finalist in the Division 1 triple jump. “It was a very big experience.”

Hackbarth competed in a meet that drew 8,630 people to the Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex. Attendance for the two-day meet jumped over 21,000 for the first time in 2018.

But the experience to compete in front of group that size won’t happen this year year after the meet — along with the rest of the spring sports season — was canceled by the WIAA last week.

The decision didn’t come out of the blue. When Hackbarth and other coaches dismissed their teams in the middle of the second week of practice in March, no one knew when they’d get together again.

“At the time, it could have been two weeks, more than that, or not again,” Hackbarth said. “We didn’t know.”

What has since materialized is hard to describe.

Losing the state meet is one thing, he said. Losing a season is quite another.

“To me, that’s the bigger thing,” Hackbarth said. “The state meet is for the elite, and it’s great for them, and it’s great for the community. It’s much bigger to me that all kids are losing a season.”

Hackbarth began by sending his athletes workouts that could be followed on a daily basis. He still does that for anyone interested, but the cancellation of the season has taken track and field off the radar for a chunk of the kids who were there to practice nearly two months ago.

Most of those are likely seniors with no aspiration to compete in college athletics, and Hackbarth doesn’t have any qualms with anyone who has made that choice. He is in a new situation, too, and adapting the best he can.

Hackbarth, who took over as Logan boys coach in 2002, is realizing the workload he has taken for granted the last 18 years. Developing specific workouts, he said, hasn’t changed. Everything else has.

“This has been tremendously eye-opening in how much time (coaching track) takes during a season,” Hackbarth said. “That Sunday before practice starts, you kind of take a deep breath and say, ‘Here we go.’ Once you start, you are into it and it becomes normal pretty quickly.

“Now, I’m sitting at home on a Friday afternoon, and it’s the first day of May. When I think about how busy I should be, it’s amazing.”

Hackbarth wants that normalcy back, but there is no way to get it. He’ll communicate with the kids as much as he can and appreciate the work they are able to take care of on their own.

“They probably won’t admit it, but kids want structure,” Hackbarth said. “That’s what we have to try and provide. Some element of structure.”

For now, that’s all he and any other coach can do.

Todd Sommerfeldt can be reached at or via Twitter @SommerfeldtLAX


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