Gov. Tim Walz made a number of announcements in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 on Wednesday, Dec. 16, including that youth and adult sports - high school activities included - can resume on Monday, Jan. 4. Though the athletes are likely ready to compete, local activities directors agreed it was a good call.
“I think it's a great idea to wait until the 4th,” Pequot Lakes Activities Director Byron Westrich said. “I don't think we're gaining anything by starting earlier. I think we're just taking on more of a chance with holiday gatherings of students being infected with COVID and then transferring it to teammates.”
Pine River-Backus Activities Director Tim Tungseth said he and school officials anticipated this decision before it was announced.
“I wasn’t really surprised. As a school district, we had already declared that Jan. 4 was going to be our start date. It wasn’t a shock that (the governor) waited until after the holidays to start," he said.
Once the winter seasons begin, they will do so in a similar fashion to fall sports, with no more than two contests per week until the final weeks of the season set aside for make-up games for up to three games per week. In regard to fans in attendance and transportation, activities directors expect a clearer vision on those aspects in the new year.
The consensus seems to be that the decision to wait until January for sports to begin was made in an effort to get past the holiday season with as many people healthy as possible.
“It just seemed to make the most sense,” Westrich said. “I would like, when we start on Jan. 4, to say, ‘Boy, let’s get after it,’ and start doing games and activities. I think we need to get them in when we can for the students … The earlier we can start, the better, as far as getting in as many games as we can.”
ADs are working on winter schedules right now, but are encouraging players, coaches and fans to expect changes on a near-constant basis.
“I’m working on the fourth revision of the schedule now, and I’m almost ready to throw my book away, order a new one and rewrite everything,” Westrich said. “It is such a tight window. It is going to be so difficult to get 18 events in, and you would like to at least schedule the maximum, so if you do lose one or two (to cancellations) you still give the students as much of a positive experience as we can.”
“I would be very surprised if we're not shuffling schedules continuously throughout the season,” Tungseth said. “Everyone just has to be flexible and work together and to try and provide students with the best opportunities that we can, but if I'm thinking realistically, there are going to be changes and we'll do the best we can with it.”
The Minnesota State High School League is still shooting to have the winter sports seasons end around mid-March. Westrich does not expect that to change, more so for the athletes who will begin competing once the snow melts.
“I think one of the reasons (the MSHSL) might make this winter sports a condensed season is they really feel obligated to keep the spring sports as close to normal as possible,” Westrich said. “We owe it to them. They never got a season last year and they need a full season this year.”
With practices beginning on Jan. 4, the ADs expect competitions to begin 10 to 14 days later. Of course, a lot can change between now and then.
“There is a lot of information that's still up in the air,” Tungseth said. “I've started looking at doing some rescheduling of games that we had missed that were originally December games, and we have been pushing those mostly back to the back half of the schedule … We are hoping, when we are given the go-ahead, to start playing games and just pick up the schedule with what was already scheduled. I anticipate we're not going to be playing games until at least Jan. 14, but who knows at this point in time.”
Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.