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College Athletics: Winter sports canceled at CLC

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Central Lakes College in Brainerd announced Monday, Nov. 16, it is suspending its men’s and women’s basketball seasons due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

The college does, however, remain optimistic about hosting spring sports.

In a statement, CLC president Hara Charlier said: “The decision to suspend Raider basketball was made after a great deal of conversation and careful consideration of data. COVID-19 infection rates continue to increase throughout our state, our region and our college community. Unfortunately, the indoor nature of basketball and the challenges associated with competition carry significant inherent risk. While our players and coaches are committed to following all mitigation protocols, the risk is simply too great.

“We understand and share the deep sense of disappointment felt by our student-athletes. We will continue to work to provide meaningful opportunities for our athletes to develop, engage, and be successful at the college. Rest assured that our commitment to Raider athletics is as strong as ever, and we look forward to cheering for our Raiders next year.”

The Minnesota College Athletic Conference, which CLC is a part of, has not made an announcement if it will host winter sports. CLC’s decision was made by its own governing body and while it will affect scheduling in the conference, Monday’s decision may not affect other institutions who may want to play.

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The college is planning to host softball and baseball next semester. The outdoor, low-contact nature of spring athletics reduces risk. They are hopeful that with strong mitigation measures and COVID-19 transmission rates expected to improve in the spring, Raider athletes will be on the field. The nature and timing of practices remain to be determined but will follow CLC COVID-19 protocols. Spring training out-of-state trips have been canceled.

Jim Russell, CLC Athletic Director and Raiders men’s basketball coach, said he is disappointed about winter sports, but also understands the situation at hand.

“We appreciate our administration for their efforts and the communication process in making these decisions. We are excited about softball and baseball and for our student-athletes who will be participating this spring.”

CLC requires safety plans from athletics following guidelines in place by the NJCAA, conference and from the college’s pandemic response team.

Raiders head softball coach Ray Austin said there is a lot of work to ensure his student-athletes remain safe, but he’s excited the possibility of a season is still in the works. Austin said losing two seasons would be devastating to his players and the program.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Austin said. “We really want to have a season because it would be the second season we lose. Nobody understands better what these athletes are going through more than Brian (Voigt) and I because we went through it with our athletes last spring.”

Austin said not getting a spring training trip down south won’t be a setback. He said because of COVID-19 restrictions his players weren’t able to fundraise like in years past.

Despite the loss of last season, Austin likes the way his roster is shaping up for this coming spring.

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“I’ve got two of the sophomores coming back for their third year as of right now,” Austin said. “I did some recruiting. There are a couple of high school kids. I didn’t sign any letters of intent because they really wanted to do it as a group and groups haven’t been allowed to do that. The roster is adequate right now and I’m confident we’ll be able to put a competitive team on the field.”

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