Athletics: Cancellations continue for area sporting events

Fans cheer on Pierz's Peter Schommer as he takes the ball up the court Wednesday, March 11, during the Section 7-2A semifinals against Virginia on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Just like the football team, the Pierz Pioneers boys basketball team will end its season with a win.

That’s because all remaining Minnesota State High School League section and state tournaments have been canceled, the league announced before 11 a.m. Friday, March 13.

The Pioneers were to play Esko in the Section 7-2A Championship 7 p.m. Friday at the University of Minnesota Duluth. It was previously reported the game would be played in front of a limited audience.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Pierz head boys basketball coach Joe Kahl said. “These boys have put in a lot of time and effort to get to where we are or were. To try to accomplish a goal and then not have the opportunity to accomplish that goal is pretty tough.”

Pierz, winners of four straight, including an 88-60 victory over Virginia Wednesday, March 11, in the section semifinal, finishes the season with a 21-8 record. The news is most devastating for senior point guard Peter Schommer, who was eight points shy of becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer.


Kahl wanted to thank his assistant coaches and the entire community for supporting the team. He said his team was deserving of the fan following, but said it propelled the Pioneers as they advanced through the section bracket.

“This was a special group because they not only performed well on the floor, but they’re friends off the court,” Kahl said. “Everybody gets along. They are coachable. Basically, they’re every coach’s dream. They never second guess anything. They’ll do whatever you tell them to do. They are fighters. We faced adversity throughout the year with the late start because of the Prep Bowl and injuries throughout the year. To overcome that adversity and put ourselves in the position that we were in speaks volumes of the character and the great people that they are.”

The league announcement also said the remainder of the girls’ state tournament was canceled as well as the section speech tournaments, which were to be March 15-21.

Former Brainerd High School graduate Brett Cloutier coached his Princeton Tigers back into the state tournament Thursday, March 12, after a 67-64 victory over Hermantown in the Section 7-3A title game.

The news today wasn’t a surprise for Cloutier.

“It’s bittersweet,” Cloutier said. “It’s an unfortunate situation, especially coming off of last year’s season. We lost four 1,000-point career scorers and a lot of people picked us to finish in the middle of our section. We didn’t get any preseason top 20 rankings and these kids just had a next-man-up mentality all season. It was such a fun group to coach. Outright Mississippi 8 Champions; being able to play in a section final in front of a huge crowd; it was a good, even fought game against a good Hermantown team and we were like heck yes, our next stop is the state tournament.

“To have that taken away is a bummer for these kids. It’s unfortunate for these players. It’s unfortunate for us as coaches. Who knows when we’ll get back there again. But at the end of the day, we respect the decision of the high school league and the Minnesota Department of Health. Player, fan and community safety is the utmost importance.”

Cloutier said on the way home from Duluth Thursday night, news of the NCAA canceling March Madness and spring sports and Wisconsin canceling all of its high school sports was the main conversation. Because of those reports he and his players knew this decision might come.


“We knew this was going to happen,” Cloutier said. “In the back of our minds we knew this was going to be the end of it and so we told our guys to focus on what you can control and we’ll deal with next week when it comes.

“We’ll just tell our kids that we’re proud of them. You want to have a chance to play, but at the end of the night we posted on our website our conference championship and a section champion and those can’t get taken away from us.”

Another former Warrior dealing with COVID-19 and sports is Dawson Blanck, executive director of the Minnesota Youth Athletic Association. In a press release late Thursday, Blanck announced the boys 3rd-8th grade state Basketball championships that were scheduled for March 14-15 across the Twin Cities were canceled.

“The safety of the youth players, coaches, parents, fans and officials throughout the state of Minnesota has always been our No. 1 priority and with the current evolving landscape of the COVID-19 situation, our board of directors, basketball board of advisers and MYAS staff all felt it was necessary to suspend play for this weekend’s Minnesota Youth Boys’ Grade State Championships,” said Blanck.

The NJCAA announced Friday it was suspending all spring athletics beginning March 14 through April 3.

Central Lakes College softball coach Ray Austin said “should conditions improve, individual colleges will be allowed to resume regular season competition if approved by the region. Teams can practice as determined by the individual colleges.”

The Raiders baseball and softball teams started their seasons with road trips to Arizona and Florida respectively.

Even high schools are waiting for direction from the league on what they should do for spring sports.


“Right now, as an example, this is what the St. Cloud schools are doing, they’re basically allowing practices to continue on as an extension of the school day, but they are not allowing events and outside people to come into their schools,” Warriors activities director Charlie Campbell said. “The hope is that in mid-April in three to four weeks you can continue and piece together some kind of season. That could change this afternoon. If the league comes out and says they aren’t going to have any spring tournaments than that forces our hands to say, ‘well, things just got really interesting around here.’”

Campbell said he’s seeing other state leagues announce they’re essentially hitting the pause button and waiting to see what the situation looks like in early April.

“Then they’ll reassess,” Campbell said. “They’re not necessarily canceling, but they’re kicking the can down the road just to see how things progress with this virus.”

Jaycees Run for the Lakes Marathon coordinator Toni Bieser said at this point the race will go on as planned, but Bieser is monitoring the situation.

The Run for the Lakes is scheduled for April 24-25 in Nisswa.

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