The Minnesota State High School League board of directors has reversed course on a decision it made in August, and will now allow football and volleyball teams to conduct a fall season.

The board came to its decision in a meeting Monday, Sept. 21. Both sports can begin traditional practices Monday, Sept. 28, with first games being possible Thursday, Oct. 8, for volleyball and Friday, Oct. 9, for football.

“It's just going to be a busy couple of weeks to get everything geared up and make sure that we're doing everything - following the protocols that are consistent with what we're doing in an academic setting as well,” Pine River-Backus Activities Director Tim Tungseth said. “It's going to be busy, getting everything ready, but it will be good to see the kids out there competing and participating again.”

This volleyball season will be an 11-week season with 14 games being played. All games have to be dual matches, with no tournaments allowed.

“While we don't know all of the details, everybody in the program is excited for sure,” Pine River-Backus volleyball coach Josh Hirschey said. “I think we will be very grateful to get any kind of a season. I'm just happy that kids will be given opportunities and feel some sense of normalcy and routine.”

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Football teams will play a six-game regular season with a localized postseason format for districts and sections. The latest football will end is Saturday, Nov. 28.

“I think it’s probably the right move,” Pequot Lakes football coach Bill Magnuson said. “That’s probably based on field conditions more than anything else … This reversal, I think, puts us in a better position to use fields that are in good shape, with no frost in the ground.

“Our players were very excited and, more importantly, I think the seniors were extremely excited to know that they are going to have a season,” he said.

State tournaments are unlikely for both sports, but coaches and athletes are still relishing the chance to play.

“I'm excited to be coaching and excited the student-athletes will have the opportunity to play the game,” PR-B football coach Tom Demars said. “There are still many aspects of this that need to be figured out, but I think we can get this season in safely. Football in northern Minnesota in the spring would have been hard to pull off, and having it in the fall will allow the spring sports to keep a more normal calendar as well. As a track and field coach, I like that aspect as well.”

Pequot Lakes volleyball coach Chris Ganley said she is truly excited to see the season begin but, knowing indoor sports present a greater risk, is proceeding with a “healthy level of caution.”

“I have two daughters in the program and they were just waiting to play … If there is any safe way to do this, I am glad they chose to let us. I think we will have to wait and see if we are handling procedures correctly. We can’t prevent everything, but we will do our best,” she said.

To mitigate risks as much as possible, Ganley said she intends to stagger practice times between the different levels once her rosters are more clearly defined to reduce the number of athletes in the gym at any given time.

Other concerns include transportation issues - as teams may need to take multiple vehicles to away games - and making sure there are enough competitions in a shortened season that very well may be shortened further.

“If a school that we play on our schedule has COVID, or is in distance learning, we are just out of that game,” Pequot Lakes Activities Director Byron Westrich said. “When it’s only two games per week, it really makes it challenging for you … You would like to get a full schedule, especially this year because it is already shortened and then all the limitations are there. So that’s my biggest concern. If we only get six football games, can we get all six?”

Despite the issues, Westrich feels the good outweighs the bad, and the simple act of having sports return to a relatively normal schedule should help from a mental health standpoint.

“It’s just fun to have that energy,” he said. “The students are excited. You can tell, as they were starting practice, that they had a little different take on what’s occurring, and it’s fun to see their enthusiasm.

Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or dan.determan@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.