Athletics: There’s a date, but not much else
Governor Tim Walz’s address Wednesday, March 25, announcing schools will remain closed until May 4 has given activities directors, coaches and athletes much to think about until then.
Speculation on what a spring sports season might look like with a late start began a debate on whether there should be just a regular season and no postseason, a shortened regular season and normal postseason or the extending of seasons into the summer months and many other variations.
“There’s going to be a lot of opinion on this, but it seems, in a year where kids have been short-changed, that it would be a little bit silly that we’re going to come in and have a week or two of a regular season and then do a postseason,” Brainerd activities director Charlie Campbell said. “Where the primary purpose of a postseason is to eliminate teams and individuals one-by-one until there is only one left, maybe that’s not the best plan this time around. Maybe we rethink our conference schedules and do a conference tournament rather than think about state championships just so we give more kids more chances to play. That’s my first reaction, but I don’t know.”
Campbell acknowledged that schools like Bemidji and Moorhead, who aren’t in a conference, probably wouldn’t like his plan.
But he said prior to May 4 conference schools would likely get together to go over a conference schedule should things clear up and the spring sports season actually begin.
“We wouldn’t necessarily be starting from square one on May 4,” Campbell said. “It’s important to remember, we’ve had springs where we have not been outside or started our competitive schedule until the first of May. Granted, our athletes were training in their sports so that’s different, but if we can come back on May 4, we’re really only going to be a week off from some of our later starts.”
According to a press release by the Minnesota State High School League all participation in MSHSL activities at all member schools is suspended. Participation includes but is not limited to training, practices, scrimmages and contests. Pending a reopening of schools by the governor, return to participation protocols will be determined and communicated by the MSHSL board and staff. No decisions regarding the cancelation of spring activities have been made at this time.
“I did have a chance to have a conversation with director (Erich) Martens last week and I think the overriding sentiment that he shared was we want to preserve any opportunity that there might be for some future participation. They don’t want to hastily make a decision and shut the opportunities down for kids where we might be able to put something together. Of course, they couldn’t describe what that is and what that looks like. They have a lot of things to work out before they communicate a plan to the schools, but they want to protect the opportunity to play.”
Staples-Motley head boys and girls golf coach Glen Hasselberg was practicing his social distancing Thursday by golfing down in Arizona on his birthday. The retired teacher will be returning to his home this weekend, but whether he’ll have a spring sports season to return to is unknown.
His thoughts on how a shortened spring season should look like:
“The section tournaments are already set so back up from the section tournaments and get as much of a regular season as you can until that section meet,” Hasselbeg said. “There’s been many years, not just a few years, but many years that we haven’t played a meet or played outside until May 1 or May whatever. My take on the deal is this, yes, it’s way out of the ordinary, but timewise it’s not all that much different than a lot of other years.”
Hasselberg doubted the season would get pushed back. He said with the courses already reserved it would be difficult for three classes of eight sections of boys and girls each to all move and then move the three state tournament venues as well.
Brainerd softball coach Shane Jordan originally thought just working out a conference schedule would be fine, but recanted and said let’s play them all.
“My best answer would be that we would get our whole season in,” he said. “We have had years in the past where we have not played a game before May, so why not this year? I know there is going to be a bit more of a time crunch, but why not get our whole season in. Extend the season by two weeks and go into June.
“That would give our seniors something to grab on to. I feel bad for all of our seniors who are missing not only on athletics, but their school day, friends, prom, other activities so any sense of normalcy would be awesome.”
Jordan admitted softball is a bit unique in the fact that pitching wise it’s not the same as baseball. Jordan believes the turnaround time from a May 4 start of practice to competing could be minimal.
“I would feel comfortable playing a game in a week or maybe less of practice,” Jordan said.
Baseball, on the other hand, would be different with its pitchers.
“I’m just speculating, but if you’re talking pitchers and catchers maybe you let them back a week before practice because you’re not having full school sessions, especially if you can be outside because the weather is nice,” Aitkin head baseball coach Jeremy Janzen said. “If it’s not until May 4 then I think it’s a full week of practice before anything happens. My suspicion would be then they would lengthen the season by a couple of weeks. But again, I don’t know what the state high school league is thinking.”
The state championship games for all four classes of baseball are scheduled for June 13.
“Maybe they bump the season back so that it ends before the Fourth of July,” said Janzen. “I’m sure they are discussing a lot of different things, but my hope would be it started May 1 and ended just prior to the Fourth. I know that plays havoc with summer baseball, but the reason people play summer baseball is to prepare for high school baseball.”
Campbell worried about facility availability, but didn’t dismiss the idea of pushing state tournaments back.
“I do think there are probably a lot of considerations out on the table,” Campbell said. “They could lengthen the season out to the middle of June. They could modify what a postseason does look like if they decide to have one. I suspect there are a variety of things that are on the table, but it’s just a matter of working through some of the logistics of pulling it off. What is fair? What is equatable? There’s a lot questions they’ll need to answer.”
One enviable position Janzen finds himself with is the number of quality pitchers he’ll have on his roster. Janzen said he’ll have 10 pitchers he can rotate through. If it’s a definite May 4 start and the season isn’t extended, depending on how many games teams are allowed to cram into the season, pitching will be at a premium.
“My biggest concern is finding time on the mound for my guys because I have so many,” Janzen said. “We’ve got a plethora of arms. A shortened season doesn’t bother us whatsoever. It would actually benefit us. For other schools, yes, I could see that being an issue.”
Janzen did bring up the pitch counts implemented by the state high school league a couple of years ago and how teams adjusted to those a few years ago. He said with weather delays in years past, should the spring season start it won’t be that unusual to stack many games into a short period of time.
Janzen’s thoughts of not doing a postseason and just playing a regular season with as many games as possible: “I would not be in favor of that. The reason these kids play their entire career is for that opportunity. They would probably be just as upset with that as if you were to say you’re not having a season at all. If I was voting on it, I would be 100% against that. I would say cut the season down to whatever number of games you need to have to get into the postseason.”