Athletics: A bit more direction in ever-changing prep sports landscape

Brainerd Warrior Max Lelwica dunks the ball in the first half of the game against the Bemidji Lumberjacks Monday, Feb. 24, at Brainerd High School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Winter sports will happen.

Fall state tournaments will not.

Those are the two big takeaways from the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors meeting Thursday, Oct. 1.

And if his job wasn’t a rollercoaster of duties and emotions already, Brainerd High School activities director Charlie Campbell will be busy deciphering all the rest of the news from the virtual meeting.


Q: What did you learn today?

CC: I guess we learned that we now have dates for winter and, I guess, presumably spring, although they didn’t specify those dates, I think they provide some clarity for the spring dates. That’s one thing.

We learned that the board of directors voted down any sort of state tournament events for the fall. It was a close vote. I think it was 10-8. I think a significant chunk of that decision was not having the ability to offer a true state-tournament experience and limited revenues in any format that you could put together. So there was some split there.

We learned that our seasons, unlike the fall, which were shortened by 20% in the overall length, they tried to, as much as possible, preserve the length of each winter sports season with a couple of exceptions. What we learned this fall is that if you condense the number of weeks even when you reduce the number of games, you just don’t have the flexibility to deal with a school like Brainerd, who might have to shut down for a period of time. Then you miss a game or two. You have no wiggle room to get it back on the schedule. That was a significant point of conversation and why they adopted the calendar that they did.

Q: The seasons are similar in length, but there will be 30% fewer contests?


CC: If you look at basketball for example there are 26 events in a normal year. Their number is 18. Hockey is 25 games. Their number is 18. When you take five or seven or eight events off the schedule that makes it a lot easier to go in and make some adjustments.

Q: As far as Brainerd is concerned, all the teams are ready to go for section playoffs, or will there be any complications?

CC: Provided our return date of Oct. 7 holds, we should be good to go. Tennis is our most challenging return because the way it’s scheduled we would return on the 7th and if we get a bye in the first round, we would play right away on the 8th. I think that’s the way it will shake out, and that’s OK. Clearly, we would love to have a little more time to practice with our kids. That’s just not going to happen this year.

Q: Will football have to cancel that first game on the road at Cambridge?


CC: Yes, we will. The football season is a little more prescriptive in terms of getting to the point of having full contact in practice and a scrimmage date, which we won’t have this year, and then a full competitive schedule. To think that we missed the official start of the season, to come back on a Wednesday and even to play on a Saturday, we fall way short of that proper acclimatization period.

You have to wrestle with that question. Do you come back and risk losing kids for a season because of injury and not going through that period properly? That’s not a position we want to put ourselves in or the kids in. We’ll lose that first week game against Cambridge and then we’ll come back and play against Apollo.

Right now that Apollo game is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 16. We’re going to circle back with high school league staff on Tuesday of next week and see if we have to move that game to Saturday. We’ve been in contact with Apollo and schools are being super flexible and we sure appreciate that.

Q: Volleyball, their first game is scheduled against Fergus Falls on Oct. 8. Is that a go?

CC: Our tentative plan right now is to play that match as we come in and get started. Again, the way the fall seasons were approved it would be really hard to find and plug that game in later in the season. One of the problems is we’re limited to only playing two games a week. Even if there was a week where we only have one game and we could plug it in that week the chances that Fergus only has one match that same week is pretty unlikely.

That’s why with winter sports they kept the season length closer to the original. The other thing they did was they gave a window at the end of the season — the last two weeks — to play as many as three contests in a week. That will help. It could be weather-related or it could be COVID-19 related. But it’s there to make sure that teams are getting in as many contests as they can.


Q: Do you think there will be winter state tournaments?

CC: That’s all going to depend on the health department recommendations on gathering size. The tournaments are largely revenue-driven. They pay for themselves and then some on a regular year. We could play at alternate venues, like high school venues, which would drive down the costs significantly as opposed to playing at Target Center or Xcel Energy Center, but there are still costs to hosting those tournaments. You have official fees, worker expenses. When you just can’t fill the seats it makes it really challenging.

You have a lot of activities that simply don’t make money. There aren’t spectators or it’s impossible to corral and charge spectators to attend events. Right now, if you ask me today, I think it would be pretty doubtful that we would. I think the league will, each season here and for each activity, will revisit the idea and see if it’s possible.

Q: No fans for volleyball?


CC: As it stands currently that is correct. I did see that there was a letter being circulated that the high school league doesn’t have authority on whether schools can allow spectators or not. It cited a few different pieces of the bylaws and even current regulations from the health department about hosting activities. The problem with that letter is it does not take into account the safe learning plan, which is guiding our educational process. It’s very clear in the beginning of that document that non-essential visitors and guests are not to come into the building. The high school league continues to work with the Department of Health and the Department of Education and they've been very clear that that is the interpretation. We’ll get it streaming.

Q: For Warrior football fans, is there a process in place for fans to be part of the 250 people in attendance for home games.

CC: We have not developed a plan yet. What we are thinking in our district, and each site is different, but we will have no problem getting 250 in here because that represents about 10% of our capacity. I think what our plan is is to have 150 reserved for the home team and then have 100 reserved for the visiting team.

I still need to work with head coach (Jason) Freed on how we do that. We’ve talked because of restrictions on the busing about posting a travel squad. Then maybe there are two tickets for each player that makes the practice squad. Something along those lines. We would have to work with our student-athletes and our coaching staff to really figure out what that means.

Nobody wants to hear that. That makes us all uncomfortable, but we also have to back up and remember that this is for the kids and the first priority is the opportunity to play and if we have that then it’s a step in the right direction. If 250 fans is it, we’ll make that work and we’ll try to get a livestream available for anyone who wants to tune in.


Q: What are your priorities now?

CC: Now we have to determine what our schedule makeup looks like. How many conference games do we play? How many section opponents? They want us to schedule regionally, but what does that look like for sports like adapted floor hockey and Alpine skiing who don’t have regional teams to play. We’ll have to look at each sport’s individual circumstances and then make some directions.

Hopefully, in the next week, we’ll begin that next process. You have to start with a schedule. You can’t order buses unless you know what your schedule looks like. You can’t order officials or game workers unless you know what your schedule looks like. There is going to be quite a lot to do in a very short period of time.

Q: How much have you learned that you didn’t know you would have to learn?

CC: That is an awful lot.

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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