Tuesday, Aug. 4, will be both a blessing and a busy, life-changing day for every high school activities director and fall coach in the state of Minnesota.
It’s the day the Minnesota State High School League will decide what will happen for the fall sports season after hearing recommendations from the Return to Participation Task Force. The group will make its recommendations to the MSHSL Board of Directors using the “Guiding Principles” to determine the best course of action for the league and school districts. Those principles are: Prioritize the health and safety for all to the greatest extent possible; Align return to participation options with the requirements and recommendations of state organizations and agencies focused on safety and return to learn models, provide an opportunity for education-based participation in each sport and activity; Demonstrate equity and fairness in preparation of programming options; Acknowledge financial implications; Apply guidelines consistently.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” Brainerd activities director Charlie Campbell said. “The Return to Participation Task Force is meeting today (Friday) and they’ll make some pretty hard proposals for each sport. There will be a few guiding principles and then there will be recommendations for each sport. The high school league also has a sports medicine advisory group that will then review those recommendations and the work of those two groups will come forward to the group at the board meeting on Tuesday.
“We’ll have to modify and be flexible and then know that the situation will always be fluid. That’s the one thing COVID-19 has taught us. We have to be fluid and ready to respond and change what we do and how we behave at a moment’s notice.”
Campbell said he’s heard of four scenarios the task force, and ultimately the high school league, would take. The first option was just normal, or a plan for a traditional fall season. The second option was a modified season or one that was 30% less in length -- a season that started later and had fewer contests. The third scenario saw the flipping of seasons or moving a sport to a different season. The most talked-about move was football and volleyball moving to spring and baseball and softball moving to the fall.
The fourth scenario was a practice-only season where intrasquad scrimmages would be allowed and nothing else.
“With the news (Thursday) from the governor, I think it makes sense that we would do some sort of modified season,” Campbell said. “It may not be as long or have as many contests, but that’s just what my gut tells me, but I’m not at the table either.”
Crosby-Ironton School Board member Mike Domin is part of the executive board for the MSHSL. He said it will be nice to finally have a decision and a plan in place for the upcoming season.
“It would have been nice to have given us a little more time,” Domin said. “The league will have to make a decision on (Aug. 4) because the fall season starts on the 10th and the 17th. We can’t leave them hanging. But whatever comes out of the decision will have to be fluid. It’s the same thing we’re talking about at our schools. We have three different plans ready at our schools and in September it might be plan 1 and then in October we’re using plan 2.”
Domin said the executive board is holding a workshop Monday, Aug. 3, and they’ll hear the proposals from the task forces a day earlier. They will not be able to make a decision as it is just a workshop and not an official meeting.
Campbell is confident the state’s ADs can prepare for a season once a plan is put into place.
“Where there is a will there is a way,” Campbell said. “I will say, yes, there is enough time, but it will be a mad scramble. We are looking at adjusting our seasons and that would be the only benefit of a delayed start. If we do have to make schedule modifications that would be best. If it’s as simple as plucking out the games where we have to travel to Moorhead or the Twin Cities or play Apollo twice and we just play them once that wouldn’t take too long.
“Most people right now have an open mind and they’re just happy to have some semblance of a season where we get to practice and improve and play some contests.”
Minnesota High School Football Coaches Association President Ron Stolski said his group will know more on Wednesday as they’ll review the results of a statewide survey, but said despite what other states may do he hopes Minnesota bases its decisions on what is happening in Minnesota rather than across the country.
“Generally the states across the country are in sort of the same situation that Minnesota is in,” Stolski said. “They’re in various stages of startups and questions as to ‘Where do we go from here?’ and ‘What next?’ Things are really in a state of flux across the nation, but what I’ve learned is you have to learn to run your own race. I got a call two weeks ago and they said New Mexico was moving their football season to the spring. Well, they can go whenever they want to go because their climate is such that they don’t have to worry about the weather. It also doesn’t matter if South Dakota can get going because they have a lot less population. Minnesota needs to run its own race. I trust the Minnesota State High School League and I trust the leadership.”
One thing Campbell said he hopes is addressed on Tuesday is fans. How many would be allowed if any? How do school districts regulate fans? Does Brainerd have enough streaming options to accommodate those fans who can’t attend? Those were just some of his concerns. What he isn’t concerned about is a return to the last spring when the choice of a season or not was taken out of the school district’s hands altogether.
“We really didn’t have a choice last spring,” Campbell said. “Once the decision was made to extend distance learning for the remainder of the year part of that executive order was the idea that your campus is closed. We couldn’t use it unless it was for child care or food service. So we didn’t have a choice. The executive order didn’t allow wiggle room around that. This time our campus will be available. Even if we move to a hybrid model or distancing learning, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people are banned from coming on to our campus facilities. I feel a lot better about this fall than I did last spring.”
Campbell said summer youth sports have shown little athlete-to-athlete transmission and called athletic teams natural bubbles or pods where student-athletes are already contained and their movements can be traced if there is an outbreak.
Still, he knows with each school district allowed to make its own decision about school that tough decisions will have to be made.
“The part that school districts will have to wrestle with is are we OK with the notion that even though we may be in distance learning we still can have extracurricular activities,” Campbell said. “Those are really two different things. There will be school leaders who are conflicted about the mixed message that might send. However, with youth sports, we got the green light to restart activities before a lot of other businesses were able to open. The importance of that social setting and being physically active was key. We were able to experiment with safety protocols. We saw very limited transmission from athlete-to-athlete over the course of the summer. In fact, to date, we haven’t had any in Brainerd, but I know that could change. School leaders will have to wrestle with that dynamic.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.