Athletics: No spring sports season weighs heavy on area ADs
They may not be Kevin Jordan’s words, but they encompass everything he’s feeling right now.
When asked about the Minnesota State High School League’s press release announcing the cancelation of the 2020 spring sports season because of COVID-19, the Little Falls activities director said: “This is still the Class of 2020’s time. This is still their time and we have to make the most of that for them. It totally looks different than the Class of 2019 and hopefully the Class of 2021, but this is still the class of 2020’s time. We need to help them and honor them in a different way.”
The MSHSL release was in response to the Executive Order 20-41 issued Thursday, April 23, by Gov. Tim Walz. Many area activities directors anticipated the announcement, but still weren’t prepared for it.
“Yesterday’s announcement was harder than I thought it was going to be,” Jordan said. “You anticipate it coming, but once you heard it and it just kind of hit you.”
“You just feel for the students that they’re not going to have the opportunity to compete and go after their goals that they have set. I saw (Little Falls baseball coach Chad Kaddatz’s) tweet and he had nine seniors that he was tipping his cap to. Man, that was a good group and they could have gone somewhere. You feel for them.”
Wadena-Deer Creek activities director Norm Gallant struggled to find a better phrase to describe the announcement other than “it sucks.”
“Whether slim or not, a guy had the hope that maybe we would be able to do something,” Gallant said. “When the news came through, even though it was expected, it was still a kick in the gut for our kids and our coaches.”
Brainerd activities director Charlie Campbell compared the announcement to that of a loved one having a terminal illness.
“You know the end is coming, and you might know it’s coming soon, but even when it happens, it’s still a really difficult thing to bear,” he said. “It’s really how I felt. I’ve known for weeks that this was probably going to be the inevitable decision, but to get the final news -- it’s tough. It’s hard to find words honestly.”
Pequot Lakes activities director Marc Helmichs said he figured once the Olympics were postponed the spring sports season in Minnesota would follow.
“Even when it did happen, it was still a kick to the stomach,” he said. “I feel horrible for the kids and coaches for not getting to play their seasons and obviously the seniors for not being able to go out with that opportunity. It’s just unprecedented. We’ve never been in this situation where we’ve lost an entire season.”
Helmrichs said he supports the decision and hopes it gets resolved before the fall season begins.
The league’s board of directors held a five-hour-long meeting Friday, April 25, to discuss changes to its summer timetables. A few changes highlighted were the no-contact period for coaches and athletes was shortened from seven days to three and the coaching waiver for summer workouts is extended by one week. It will run from June 1 through Aug. 7, as reported by the league’s John Millea.
That doesn’t help this year’s teams with many having high expectations. Gallant said Wadena-Deer Creek’s track and field team was looking like a state title contender and the Wolverines baseball team was filled with talent. Pequot Lakes track and field programs are always in the mix for state titles.
Area activities directors were poised for either a shortened spring season, an extended spring season and perhaps just a regular season. Campbell said any and all ideas were on the table before Thursday’s announcement.
“We were holding on to that little bit of hope that we would have a shortened season,” Jordan said. “Our spring coaches were approaching it that way and communicating with their kids. Obviously, you couldn’t require them to do the training and the condition things, but they were able to offer some things they could do to prepare themselves for that shortened season. That’s where we were at.”
With the decision of the spring sports season being done, the attention turns to honoring the seniors.
“That conversation extends to the all-sports banquet, the fine arts banquet, certainly graduation, which is the capstone of all recognitions and ceremonies,” Campbell said. “We’ve been in pause mode. So now we dial up those conversations in earnest. We also need to be mindful of CDC recommendations of group gathering guidelines and social distancing. I think there are a lot of questions yet, but we can certainly move forward as far as planning to recognize our students.”
Campbell and Brainerd High School video production teacher Andy Dwyer are working to produce a video or virtual banquet. Campbell said he’s hoping to create a keepsake that identifies and honors the students.
Brainerd’s all-sports banquet will forgo a Brainerd Warrior Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Campbell said his staff felt more focus should be on the seniors this year and, secondly, the key component of doing the hall of fame induction during the all-sports banquet is to unite the past, present and future of Warrior athletics. He said having the inductees at the ceremony is a highlight for many and they would reintroduce that next year if the conditions allow.
Gallant told his winter coaches to postpone their post-season banquets in the hopes they would be able to have them in person later in the year. Gallant is now encouraging his coaches to have virtual banquets.
“We’ll end up doing the same thing with our senior banquet,” Gallant said. “Our principal and I are going to Zoom with our senior class on Tuesday to talk about these things going forward. You only get so many opportunities to do this. It’s such a hard thing not to be able to do it. Our decision-makers are doing the absolutely best they can. I think they’re doing the right thing, but it still doesn’t make it any easier.”
Jordan said his staff is brainstorming extra ideas to celebrate the Flyers.
Many activities programs have stressed extra-curricular activities are an extension of the classroom. Many are struggling to find the lesson in the current situation.
“I wish I had some great advice,” Helmrichs said. “I thought about drafting a letter and sending it to the kids and I just don’t have anything. Obviously, some things happen that are out of your control and you have to understand that’s going to happen the rest of your life. Decisions are going to be made that impact you and you have no control over it. I think probably how you react to that and how you learn from it is the lesson if there is one. I just don’t know. I wish I had something better to offer.”
Campbell said words are hard to come by after Thursday’s decision.
“There are going to be times when you experience things you don’t like,” he said. “There are going to be times that are uncertain and difficult. It’s our hope that their experiences up to this point are going to help them to get through that. I hope their experience of being part of a team and having a mutually accountable work ethic toward the team goals that they can understand their role in this pandemic in helping to keep other people safe. That’s a sacrifice they’ve made for the greater good us all. I’m hopeful that those lessons they’ve learned along the way are going to help them.
“I know how important my high school athletics and activities were for me and it’s sad. I’m really sorry they didn’t get to experience the end that they wanted to.”