Wynot's high school. Two brick buildings connected together
Wynot Public Schools is taking extra caution from COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Emersyn Sudbeck

Wynot Public Schools went through a rollercoaster of emotions within a week of each other in the middle of March. 

The Wynot Blue Devils girls basketball team won the state championship this year, beating the Humphrey St. Francis Flyers who were led by Allison Weidner, a Nebraska Women’s Basketball commit for the class of 2021. Wynot, located in Northeast Nebraska about five miles from the Missouri River, has a girls basketball dynasty. They have now won seven state Class D-2 championships in the last ten years.  

trophies 1 - Wynot Public Schools taking preventative measures against COVID-19
Wynot has been one of the top Class D-2 schools in the past decade in athletics. Photo courtesy of Emersyn Sudbeck

The girls were looking forward to defending their district title in track and field when the season and school was stopped because of COVID-19. 

With exposure to the virus during Girls State Basketball, Wynot’s Superintendent Jeff Messersmith himself was feeling ill and had to be tested for the virus causing the entire office at Wynot to quarantine for 14 days. Luckily, the test was negative.

The rest of the schools in Nebraska followed suit soon after and were all shut down during the next week. Messersmith spent the next few days figuring out how to feed the students and eventually landed on home delivery for those who ordered.

One of the main problems due to COVID-19 in Wynot, which had a population of 181 in 2018, is unemployment.

“Our poverty rate went from about 50% to about 80% immediately because a lot of people were laid off,” Messersmith said. 

Wynot, which has about 50 students in its high school, had to cancel prom and postpone graduation. They then moved to virtual learning for the rest of the 4th quarter. 

The students had 30-minute sessions in four content areas on Mondays and Wednesdays and then met Tuesdays and Thursdays for the same amount of time in non-content areas. On Fridays, teachers held virtual office hours to help students who had questions. The school had two families who didn’t have any internet, so the school went through a local vendor and provided it for them. 

Wynot now has a new plan for the fall although it isn’t completely solidified yet.

“Right now, we’re going to split our population based on families, so we’re going to have Monday/Wednesday families and Tuesday/Thursday families, and that will split the population approximately in half,” Messersmith said.

So far this summer, only the volleyball team is using the weight room and court. The student-athletes are required to wear masks at all times when working out and to wipe down every piece of equipment after every lift. This forces the athletes to focus on the number of reps instead of maxing out to avoid the changing of weights. The volleyball players are also split into groups to reduce the number of people at risk for contamination.

weight room 2 1 - Wynot Public Schools taking preventative measures against COVID-19
Wynot has only been allowing 6 players and a coach in the weight room at a time. Photo courtesy of Emersyn Sudbeck

Messersmith, a former basketball coach, is worried there will be no fall sports at all. He believes it will be challenging to keep track of who was contaminated if a player tested positive. Messersmith also pointed out that if one person tests positive after a game, both teams will have to quarantine for two weeks causing four games to get cancelled.

“I’m not saying they’re not going to try,” Messersmith said. “I really do think it’s important for students to have activities because it fulfills that other piece of education and believe me, I think it’s a very important part of education. That socialization through whatever activity that is, whether it’s one-act, speech, football, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, whatever. That socialization helps well-round our students and makes them better at allocating their time.”

Edyn Sudbeck, a senior volleyball and basketball player for Wynot, says her team would still keep working hard during workouts if there wasn’t a season.

“I know I can speak for the whole team when I say we would all be disappointed if volleyball got pushed back,” Sudbeck said. “However, I know we would still keep pushing and working hard in the offseason.”

With his budget already set for this year, Messersmith doesn’t see a significant impact on schools until next year. They are, however, planning on allowing only parents of players on their own team and of their opponents to attend the games. The concession stand, based on how COVID-19 is currently, will not be open during the games.

“Our booster club is super supportive of everything we do,” Messersmith said. “Without being able to have revenue, (the booster club) probably won’t be able to support the things we like to do as much.” 

Emma Sudbeck, Edyn’s twin sister, says her team will play no matter the circumstances.

“Our community is small, but our fan base is huge,” Emma said. “Everyone supports everyone here in Wynot so seeing a crowdless gym would be super odd. However, COVID has been very eye-opening for my team and we all are realizing how grateful we are for the game of volleyball.”

Messersmith meets with other leaders of the Lewis and Clark Conference, which Wynot is a part of, once a week to talk about how fall sports are going to look.

“Right now, we’re thinking about doing it,” Messersmith said. “ We’re planning on playing. We haven’t shortened any seasons. We haven’t done anything like that.”

Cody Frederick is a fifth-year student majoring in sports media, journalism and broadcasting while minoring in business administration and horticulture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is from a small town in Northeast Nebraska called Winside.