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Prep sports are back to normal … maybe

Don’t look now, but the fall sports season is right around the corner. In fact, local teams will be hitting the fields and courts within the next two weeks, and practices officially begin on Monday and captains practices are happening already. This week the Pine Knot News checked in with a number of local activities directors to find out how this season is shaping up as Covid-19 cases are on the rise again.

“As of today everything is a go and we have not heard otherwise from the Minnesota State High School League,” said Paul Riess, AD for the Cloquet Lumberjacks. “We have not heard much up until now from MSHSL. There is a meeting with them later this week and we should learn more.”

The next MSHSL board meeting may shed more light on if, and what, restrictions may crop up this fall, but at this point local ADs are pushing ahead with the status quo.

“We are planning to start the season like previous years, without restrictions or protocols in place,” said Esko AD Chad Stoskopf. “Whatever happens, and in any case, we will roll with the punches and make the most of the opportunity.”

In Minnesota the majority of adults eligible for a Covid vaccine have gotten vaccinated, but there is concern that new variants of the disease are affecting children, which in turn may have an impact on the fall sports season.

“I know that many programs were greatly affected last year due to Covid, and I’m hoping we don’t have a repeat of last year,” said Wrenshall AD Jeremy Zywicki. “It was not a good situation for kids last year, and hopefully we can avoid it this year.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Moose Lake AD Beckie Jackson, who also described another issue that many schools are having during the pandemic.

“Our numbers were down drastically last year due to Covid and, to be quite honest, the bus driver shortage has been the most concerning,” Jackson said. “We likely won’t be able to have a practice bus because, like most small schools, we can’t find drivers. Unfortunately, athletics isn’t accessible in our area for all if we don’t have that bus. We’re trying to be creative in getting all of our kids to the spaces they need to be in order to participate.”

Last year was not just draining on students, parents and coaches, but also on activities directors who bore the brunt of following protocols, rescheduling entire seasons and more.

“I honestly don’t wish a year like last year on anybody,” Jackson said. “I’m not sure I could even continue in the AD position if another year like last year happened again. It was incredibly frustrating. I’m going to go forward this year thinking more positively and hoping we can resume things more normally.”

In the meantime, the MSHSL planned on two meetings with activities directors as well as fall coaches from around the state this week. The first meeting was held Tuesday and the final meeting is set for Thursday.

“Today (Tuesday) it was more procedural type stuff,” Riess said. “Basically the meeting today centered around making sure coaches knew of what was required of them and just some basic and standard stuff that happens every year.”

Thursday’s meeting will center more around the potential of Covid causing changes in scheduling, mask mandates and other such items.

“As of now we just don’t know if there will be any other protocols,” Riess said Tuesday. “We will know more after the Thursday meeting. As of now we are just moving ahead much like a regular season. If changes come in the future then we will adjust to what the MSHSL is asking us to do.”

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