It’s that time of year again, where one sports season abruptly ends while the next season wonders what next.

With Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s latest order forcing the end of fall sports and delaying the start of winter sports until at least Dec. 18, many coaches are scrambling to figure out how to keep their athletes engaged, active and prepared for what will surely be a sprinter start to a winter season.

Cindy Clough, head coach of the Brainerd Warriors dance team, had a week with her athletes before their season paused. Dance teams were allowed to start Nov. 9. The Warriors used the first week to work on choreography, while the second week was tryouts and then practice.

“We were happy and really going, but now we’re switched to virtual so tonight (Monday, Nov. 23) will be our first virtual practice,” said Clough. “We learned a lot in those few days, but now it’s going to be hard because we can’t do any formations, but we’re going to try and make it work.

“We’re going to try to teach as much as possible and then when we get back together we’ll put them in formation.”

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Clough said the focus will be on keeping the team in shape, while also learning the moves. They’ve also implemented the use of an accountability partner to make each student-athlete is learning the routine.

“Timing is such a crucial thing so that won’t really happen until we get back together,” Clough said. “My daughter does this formation app where she’s got everybody identified in the routine by numbers so they can follow where they go the whole time and then they can visualize on the gym floor where they would go.”

Like most programs, Clough has no idea when Brainerd’s first competition will be, when conference competitions will be and when the postseason will start. The Warriors had a full schedule, but most if not all of that has been canceled.

Clough said many coaches have reached out to her for guidance in how to handle the pause.

“You really have to utilize Zoom or Google Meet or whatever and we navigated that last spring with our studio so I feel like I’m a lot better off than I was then,” Clough. “We just told every kid to get a place in your house where you clear a spot and you have room to move. That’s one of the biggest things. Some people don’t have much room and we sure can’t hold that against them.”

One hurdle Clough and her team could face is junior varsity. They halted the JV choreography, but there is a chance JV programs could be brought back.

Athlete development was a key issue for Brainerd head boys basketball coach Charlie Schoeck. Boys basketball and boys hockey were scheduled to start practice Monday, Nov. 23. That of course didn’t happen.

“We weren’t given a whole lot of prior notice, but what we’re trying to do at least a couple of times a week is do some Zoom meetings, particularly with some varsity returning guys and some guys that we had asked to try out for varsity,” Schoeck said. “We’ll try and do some classroom stuff and by that I mean we’ll do some film study. I can share my screen over Zoom and we can watch game film from last year and the year prior and look at some things that we want to improve on from last year.

“We can also do some team-building stuff. I always tell the guys there’s more to life than basketball and more to basketball than basketball so we’re going to do a lot of team-building exercises. Just getting to know each other and building that team chemistry before we can get back on the court.”

Schoeck said there are many skills-based websites that are putting out free online workouts for ball handling and other sport-specific workouts. But he knows many players are limited with space and not being able to go to a gym.

“We have to get creative, but we’re doing what we can with what we’ve got,” Schoeck said.

Chuck Schoeck
Chuck Schoeck

Without having a schedule, Schoeck admitted he’ll likely have to rely on his returning veterans a lot at the beginning of the season. He did stress that in grades nine through 12 all the coaches use the same terminology so the language should be the same.

“Not knowing what the schedule looks like it might compress the time we typically have for tryouts and maybe there won’t be tryouts at all,” Schoeck said. “You worry that potentially you won’t give a kid as good of a look as you would in a typical year. You worry about that a little bit, but one thing that we’ve talked about in the district is transportation with it being distance learning. The ability for some of the younger guys who don’t have a driver's license and don’t have a way to get to the school at that time of day, we worry about those kids not being able to get to a practice.”

Dave Aus, Warriors head boys hockey coach, is worried about players using their time wisely, but says with hockey being almost a year-round sport he hopes his players will be ready to go once given the green light.

“Dave Stengrim, our assistant coach, has posted some stuff on Google Classroom, but whether kids are doing that or not is up to them,” Aus said. “You just cross your fingers and hope kids are doing something. And really, quite honestly, not so they stay in shape, but for their own mental health. This is ridiculous what we’re doing to these kids so you’re hopeful that they’re up and active and doing things.

“Our hands are so tied through all of this that it’s nearly impossible to make sure kids are doing something. We’ll continue to do the best we can through it and hopefully, they do stuff.”

Aus has four student-athletes in his house and is making sure they’re being active with physical education classwork and training.

“Hockey is way different than football per se,” Aus said. “Our kids, a lot of them, are tapped into stuff year-round or 75% of the year with hockey. The staying in shape part normally is not ever really an issue anymore. But with COVID-19 going on, 30 days of not doing anything is going to be detrimental.”

Dave Aus
Dave Aus

The most recent order by the governor focused on indoor activities and one thing that could make a comeback is outdoor hockey. Unfortunately, the weather hasn’t cooperated enough to get outdoor rinks ready, but Aus said we could be going back to the 50s and 60s when teams played outdoors.

“If there were a year to do it, this would be the year,” Aus said. “We certainly haven't planned it. We had talked with Roseau a couple of years ago about potentially trying to play one up in Nisswa. It just kind of fell apart. I don’t foresee us playing a bunch of games outdoors. I think it’s a great idea. If you can ski and do some of those things outside, I don’t know why you couldn’t play hockey outside, but it becomes a lot of work.”

But the pause has caused a lot of work for coaches and has forced creativity to find ways to make sure student-athletes are ready to go if a winter season should happen.

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.