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Shift of prep sports seasons could have seismic impact


August 14, 2020

Pine Knot News photo illustration

Playing football from March to May could make it a whole new ballgame.

Last Tuesday the Minnesota State High School League announced a revamped high school schedule due to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.

The league's board approved four sports for the fall season: girls tennis, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer and girls swimming and diving. They will officially begin the season Monday, Aug. 17 with some limitations. The league moved volleyball and football to a spring season, running from mid-March to mid-May. The usual spring sports - softball, baseball, track, golf and boys tennis - will now have a season from mid-May until the middle of July, which is well after seniors graduate from high school.

Moving some sports from fall to spring and the new guidelines will cause some hardships to school districts across the state.

Former Carlton activities director and now K-12 principal Ben Midge said moving football and volleyball basically creates a fourth sports season. And that's OK, he said.

"Giving kids the possible opportunity to play this year is better at this point than not playing at all," Midge said. "The biggest change will be with transportation and ensuring we have enough drivers and buses to take kids when the time comes to play."

According to some activity directors, some sports may have been canceled without the move - even prior to any new potential Covid uptick in the state.

"These changes are significant, but they make every sport having a season possible," said Esko activities director Chad Stokopf. "The calendar changes and playing in mid-March and mid-May will pose many challenges, but if it means our kids get the opportunity to play then it'll all be worth it."

Despite last week's ruling, there are many things still up in the air, including the actual dates of the new seasons.

Moving football to spring will create other challenges for districts.

"For a school that does not have turf, this (the timing of the new season) will be an issue," Cloquet activities director Paul Riess said. "Can we use our field at all without destroying it? I have my doubts, but we will have to see. We may be renting turf fields in the area, but even turf fields may not be ready, so football practice will need to be inside."

According to the state, high school football and volleyball teams will still be able to practice in the fall but with a reduced schedule.

"I have talked with my coaches and we are all pretty much in agreement that even if we are allowed to practice we won't," said Cloquet football coach Tom Lenarz. "The reward for practicing is to be able to play under the lights on Friday night and I am not sure that practicing 10 or 12 times now will carry over for us in the spring. We just don't see the logic in it."

In lieu of practice, the Cloquet football program may offer up some kind of touch football league this fall to keep players active. It also will extend the summer strength training program through the fall.

"It would be tough for guys to lift all summer and then lose that before spring," Lenarz said. "At this point, the state high school league has not even come out with how practices will be allowed and what we can and cannot do, so football coaches just have to wait and see what they say."

If snow is still on the ground and fields are wet by practice time in the spring, when both volleyball and football start practice, space will be an issue, Riess said.

"Normally in the fall the volleyball programs have the gyms all to themselves for practice," Riess said. "In mid-March, when both volleyball and football start to practice this school year, they will have to share gym space so there will be some adjustments made."

There has also been speculation by some that moving sports to different times of the year could sway athletes who may decide to step away from other sports or not play at all in sports that extend into the summer such as softball, baseball, boys tennis, golf and track.

"The most important thing that came from last week's decisions is that we are planning on hosting all sports this year," Esko's Stoskopf. "Our community and neighbors must do everything we can to limit the spread of the virus and help make having sports seasons a reality. All student athletes understand that following social distance guidelines and wearing masks improve the chances of their sport taking place. I hope they are disciplined in this pursuit."

"The only constant related to athletics during the pandemic has been frequent change," Stoskopf said. "By the time this article goes to print, athletic directors could be dealing with a whole new set of guidelines."


Buy an online game

With attendance at indoor events currently forbidden and outdoor events limited, the Cloquet School Board voted this week to sign a three-year contract with Itasca Marketing to livestream competitions. People could purchase one game at a cost of $9.95, or subscribe by camera location (football field, swimming pool, hockey arena or gymnasium) or buy an all-games package, activities director Paul Riess said. The school district would get 25 percent of subscription fees.


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