Youth basketball and hockey will have a new twist for the 2021 season while playing — mask wearing.

With winter sports set to start practice Monday Jan. 4, and scrimmages and games to begin Thursday, Jan. 14, the Minnesota State Department of Health announced Monday, Dec. 28, that face coverings must be worn at all times by athletes and spectators for basketball and hockey games.

In Wisconsin, high school athletes have already been wearing masks while playing basketball and hockey.

Brainerd girls’ basketball coach Troy Nelson doesn’t really care about the mask wearing while playing just as long as they can get to play.

“We have been given the heads up that it may be coming,” Nelson said. “I am not totally surprised. I’m just excited that we get to play and get back in the gym. If it’s with masks, it’s with masks and we will make the best out of it. Everyone is going to be in the same boat and do what we can with it and enjoy ourselves.”

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Brainerd boys’ basketball coach Charlie Schoeck said it’ll be different to see athletes running up and down the court with masks.

“It will take a little getting used to, but no one is at a disadvantage,” Schoeck said. “Seeing the neighbor states do it, it’s something we have let the kids know is a possibility. Our guys have been super resilient. We were prepared to start our season in November, but we got the news it would be put off for another four weeks and our guys got back in the video and film work without hesitation and working on getting better.”

Brainerd boys’ hockey coach Dave Aus worries about athletes who struggled with asthma while wearing a mask, but wants to get players on the ice playing however he can.

“We will do what we are told to do and make the best of it,” Aus said. “I know when I played I couldn’t wear a mask over my face and be effective, but we will see.”

Brainerd girls’ hockey coach Jack Freeman had a feeling something like this was coming.

“I’ve first seen it in the east coast colleges,” Freeman said of masks while playing hockey. “I saw on social media that they were wearing masks under their helmets. So I knew it was a possibility. When we would skate with our youth hockey players, all the coaches had to wear masks, but it’ll be something new for our girls.”

Freeman told his girls a week ago to be prepared for something like a mask mandate.

“It will probably be uncomfortable for some kids before they get used to it, but like anything it’s the times we are in and we got to deal with it,” Freeman said. “I put it on the kids’ radar, just to prepare them that it’s going to be different and we will be grateful for any opportunity that we have to play.”

For other indoor sports like wrestling, gymnastics, cheerleading and swimming and diving, masks are not required by athletes participating due to the masks being a choking hazard.

Practice guidelines were also given which included mask wearing, keeping athletes in pods of no more than 25 people and no spectators.



CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or conrad.engstrom@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/the_rad34.