Will Decorah middle schoolers be sacrificing more than they gain by attending athletic practices on Wednesday evenings? 
Some people think so.
The question came up during a public comment session, which occurred Monday night, prior to a split vote (3-2) by the Decorah School Board on the subject.
Board President Ron Fadness, Board Vice President Melanie Tietz and Board Member Brian Petersburg voted in favor of instituting Wednesday night practices, with Board members John Hjelle and Cindy Schissel voting against the measure. Practices will end no later than 5 p.m.

The issue
Historically, Wednesday nights in Decorah have been designated as “church night,” and no middle school practices were held.
At last month’s meeting, the Board solicited public comment on the question of whether or not to change the situation at the recommendation of the District’s coaches, who feel students would be better served by having practice on Wednesday.
Petersburg and Tietz said they received more emails on this issue than any other since they joined the Board.
On Monday, Jeff Freidhof, high school wrestling coach and sophomore football coach, gave an example of a situation in which the kids could have benefitted from a Wednesday practice.
Freidhof said he helps at middle school track meets, and at the first girls meet, a couple of Decorah teams were disqualified after breaking some rules regarding exchange zones.
“There’s always some confusion. This was a Tuesday meet and they had no instruction again before running another meet on Thursday,” said Freidhof.
Jenny Murphy, youth minister for St. Benedict Parish in Decorah, said the effects of such a change would reach far beyond the religious.
She said she and her husband have lived in several places, and have “never encountered a district where kids are as well rounded” with regard to academics, athletics, fine arts and faith development.
“I believe the current arrangement of not having Wednesday middle school practices plays a significant part in this,” said Murphy.
Murphy added in addition to youth religious activities, parents use Wednesdays to schedule music, voice, tutoring, doctoring, dental, physical therapy and haircut appointments, in addition to some students attending classes through Winneshiek Medical Center and ArtHaus.
“I suggest the way things have been done allows children to develop. That way has become the Decorah way … I truly believe they will be sacrificing more than they will gain,” said Murphy.
“Please consider respecting the various church activities and honoring a more relaxed pace for families on Wednesday evenings.”

Improved skills
Randy Iverson, who has served as middle school athletic director for the past 18 years, said while he doesn’t disagree with Murphy, “I know a lot of our (athletic) skill sets could be improved.”
He added in talking with coaches in the past, all have been supportive of such a change.
“With our schedules of Tuesday and Thursday night games, it really sets our coaches back. I see this as a positive,” said Iverson.
Petersburg agreed.
“My feeling is by having that extra practice, maybe a kid can be better prepared and have more success. Maybe it’s going to force some of the religious institutions to change their schedules,” said Petersburg.

Other schools
Superintendent Mike Haluska said Decorah is the only school in our area that does not have Wednesday evening practices.
Haluska added while the District has been very intentional about not having middle school events or practices on weekends, there are non-school-related traveling teams that take up much of a family’s weekend.
“When we’re talking about family time or whatever, that’s a 48-hour weekend, compared to 90 minutes (on Wednesdays),” said Haluska.

Well rounded
When Hjelle commented he thinks the issue might come down to availability of indoor practice facilities rather than practice times, Activities Director Adam Riley said it’s about opportunities.
“If I’m a person who runs cross country and I really want to get better and improve, I can go ahead and make myself better. If I’m a basketball athlete and I want to get better, where do I go?” asked Riley.
“I want to thank the Board for entertaining this discussion. Part of developing a well-rounded kid is helping them get better,” said Riley.