Football and Volleyball are back to fall schedule

The MSHSL reverses original decision to play football and volleyball in the spring.

Brainerd players run to the sidelines as the second half gets underway Friday, Oct. 4, during their homecoming game. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Football and volleyball are happening earlier than expected in the 2020-21 school year.

The Minnesota State High School League announced Monday, Sept. 21, after a meeting that volleyball and football will return in the fall and not play in the spring like initially decided in August.

Both sports will begin practice Monday, Sept. 28, with first games being possible Thursday, Oct. 8, for volleyball and Friday, Oct. 9, for football. Volleyball and football have already been holding practice, which was deemed OK by the previous plan laid out by the MSHSL in August.

Brainerd’s activities director Charlie Campbell said a reversal like this is hard to do.

“I’m excited to work to get this rolling for football and volleyball,” Campbell said. “For those athletes to have a fall season is a positive course of events to bring that back. And that’s easily done to reverse that decision and I hope people understand how monumental that decision is.”


One of the reasons for the MSHSL reversal decision might have to do with the success the current fall sports of tennis, swim/dive, cross-country and soccer are having.

Campbell noted he has seen a few Brainerd student-athletes test positive or be in close contact with others who have tested positive for COVID-19. In each case, however, Campbell said, it happened outside of the team setting.

“We have demonstrated that we can effectively manage the COVID protocols that exist for our sports,” Campbell said. “While we know there may be some circumstances that other teams or even our teams might have to shut down for a period of time, we feel good about the protocols we have in place to mitigate that.”

The motion to play for volleyball has an 11-week season with 14 games being played. All games have to be dual matches with no tournaments.

For football, the motion to play a six-game regular season with a localized postseason format for districts and sections. The latest football will end is Saturday, Nov. 28.

State tournaments are unlikely for both sports.

“The first thing I told Charlie our AD was ‘welcome to chaos,’” Warriors volleyball head coach Rick Kuehlwein said. “I got so many emails out because no one knows our schedule yet except that it is going to be 14 contests. Arranging transportation is going to a chore. Are we taking all teams? We don’t know the answers to these questions yet.”

Kuehlwein thinks there was a lot of pressure put on by the junior clubs to make sure a volleyball season happened in the fall.


“A lot of the coaches in the cities were putting pressure on because a lot of the better teams might not have had a team if it would have been in the spring,” Kuehlwein said. “A lot of unknowns right now. I’m glad it’s in the fall instead of the spring.”

For fans, outdoor events like football are still limited to 250 spectators. Indoor events like volleyball will allow no spectators. These guidelines come from the Minnesota Department of Health.

“It’s perspective,” Campbell said. “There needs to be a level of excitement that we are going to have a fall sports season for volleyball and football. With that in mind that is going to bring forth some altered expectations where we have to limit who can come to our events. It’s not because we want to, but it's because we are in a position where we have to. I hope our parents and fans can be happy for the kids that they are able to get back and be in a competitive environment.”

It will be weird to play volleyball with no fans, but Kuehlwein is hopeful that eventually parents will be allowed to watch.

“The kids just want to play,” Kuehlwein said. “I’m thinking they are going to allow a change where they have parents come in with masks and social distancing.”

Brainerd’s football head coach Jason Freed enters his first year as head coach for the Warriors and is excited about having football back.

“I think you could tell that there was a lot of positive momentum here in the last two to three weeks,” Freed said. “I think we all had a hunch that it was trending in this direction, but if we have learned anything from 2020 that never assume you are right about anything.

“We are excited obviously. Football is known for being a fall sport and it’s great to get it back in the fall. We will have hurdles and obstacles we will have to overcome and work over, but we will work through those things. More importantly it’s exciting for all high school sports in general because now there is a potential to get those spring sports back in the spring and not mess in the summer.”


Campbell agrees with Freed about getting spring sports back to the spring and make the activities schedule somewhat normal.

“I’m happy for those spring sport athletes who will now get to play more in that traditional spring time slot instead of going into July,” Campbell said.

Despite a limited postseason and no state tournament Freed thinks having a season is still important.

“I think just having somewhat of a season and some normalcy to a season is the No. 1 priority,” Freed said. “Obviously, you want to have a postseason and I think what I gathered today was we will cross those bridges when they come.”

Campbell says a lot of student-athletes dream of making the state tournament, so not having one would be a great loss. He also mentioned that most student-athletes don’t make state and just being able to play is a win.

“Not having an opportunity to go to state interferes with a lot of kids’ dreams about what they want for themselves and their teammates,” Campbell said. “At the same time, if the option is to not compete at all most teams do not get to participate in a state tournament. The greater purpose of our programs to advance the educational mission of the high school.”

Kuehlwein is happy that those volleyball players who want to play at the next level will get a chance to play before the spring.

“They want an opportunity to be seen this season so they can pick the right junior club to play in the offseason,” Kuehlwein said. “I think that’s an important part. Everyone wants a postseason, but I think they are just happy to be playing.”


Verndale football head coach Mike Mahlan, who has over 400 wins to his name, is skeptical about the return. Mahlan’s main concern is getting in a full season without COVID-19 roadblocks.

“It’s a no-win situation,” Mahlan said. “Hopefully, we can get six-games in and if we can get everything in I would be happy with that. I’m skeptical if we are going to get everything in. I just wish we would’ve got this done earlier.”

Overall, it’s an ideal outcome for the coaches and student-athletes who have been itching to get back on the court and gridiron.

“I do think there are some serious concerns,” Freed said. “We all have to get safety in mind and it’s not going to look the exact same with the protocols with COVID. We are going to have to work those things and be flexible and hopefully we can get through those things without having major things happening. We have a COVID plan, but at the same time the message is to tell the kids ‘You need to watch what you do’ and be aware of your surroundings.”

CONRAD ENGSTROM may be reached at 218-855-5861 or Follow on Twitter at


Bemidji players scramble to get to the ball after Brainerd's Delaney Schaeffer blocks it at the net Friday, Oct. 25, at Brainerd High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

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