MSHSL announces winter sports plan

Charlie Campbell

Greg Johnson said it best when describing how to prepare for the Minnesota high school winter sports season.

“You can kind of get a little bit of a framework so you’re ready to do something, but there is not a lot you can do,” said Johnson, the Verndale activities director and head boys basketball coach.

“I can’t really give you a good answer on what exactly it’s going to look like.”

The Minnesota State High School League announced Thursday, Dec. 3, at it’s regularly scheduled board of directors meeting that there will be a winter sports season. What it couldn’t pinpoint, however, was when it would start.

That decision will be up to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and when he hits the unpause button on his most recent executive order to shut down school activities.


The board did create three different start dates for when the executive order is lifted. The first would be Dec. 21. If the executive order is extended, the next start date would be Jan. 4. Again, if the order to remain closed is extended, the next start date would be Jan. 18.

All three scenarios were approved by the board. All three come with questions. For instance, sports like basketball, hockey and wrestling are allowed 18 contests this season. If Jan. 18 is the start date the number of contests would likely be reduced. If Jan. 4 is the start date, the requirement for only two events per week could change.

Each start date also affects what postseason play might look like.

“From my understanding, if we started Dec. 21 or Jan. 4 there would not be a reduction in the number of contests,” Brainerd activities director Charlie Campbell said. “Right now, in the last two weeks of a season, you can play three contests per week. They would probably allow that for the last three weeks of the season or maybe four weeks to get those games in. I’m not super concerned about that.

“If you look at our schedule, there would have been only a handful of contests in December anyway. I feel like rescheduling any December events is not going to be super challenging.”

Campbell said most sports’ bylaws have a 10-day required preseason before contests can be held. If Dec. 21 is the start date then the first date for events would be Jan. 4. The opening day of events for a Jan. 4 start date would be Jan. 14. However, the board might discuss different options.

“I was just looking at our schedule seeing where we would move things back,” Johnson said. “If they go with option one, I think the season is 15 weeks long. If they go with option two it’s 13 weeks and if they go with option three it’s 11 weeks. Obviously, our conference would have to meet to see what we’re going to do about games.

“Again, like I said, we can have some ideas about what we’re going to do so that we’re ready to put them in place once we have more information because there is still going to be more guidance coming out for the high school league based around those three schedules.”


State tournaments have been announced, but not a lot of detail has been given. Hockey and basketball state tournaments would need to be done no later than March 29. Campbell said one thing mentioned is a staggered schedule of state tournaments to allow the best streaming options available for all of the tournaments.

In keeping with the fall sports restrictions, there will be no holiday tournaments or large invitationals. Wrestling matches will be capped at triangulars meaning no Paul Bunyan Invite this season. The Warrior Holiday gymnastics invite will also not happen. And despite different state rules, the Warrior boys swimming and diving team would not be allowed to compete in an invite in Fargo.

A big question will be dance team competitions and how those are conducted.

“For wrestling, we can do duals or tris and we’re in fact trying to do mostly tris because the kids get more matches that way,” Campbell said.

A big downside to the lack of invitations, said Campbell, is the extra number of events that are needed to be scheduled. For instance, in a wrestling invitational, an athlete could compete three or four times. Instead of one event now two or three events will need to be scheduled in order to reach that same amount.

“That’s putting a lot of pressure on our facilities actually,” Campbell said.

Under the current structure, spring sports would not be affected much. Baseball, softball and track and field would hold 12-week seasons while all state tournaments would need to be held no later than the week of June 14.

Despite the ruling, individual school districts will still determine the start dates for their athletic programs. That could mean if a school has extended its distance learning policy, a delay to the start of the athletic season might ensue.


RELATED: Athletics: Winter coaches get creative during the pause

Verndale’s status

In other MSHSL moves, the board approved a minor adjustment for the nine-man football classification process. District assignments will take place during the same time frame as section realignment and enrollment figures will be for grades 8-11 instead of 9-12.

This action could affect Verndale, which was already close to bumping up to a 1A football team.

“Normally, what they’ve done in the past, on the off-year of setting up section alignments, they would reclassify nine-man numbers so they were looking at nine-man numbers every year,” Johnson said. “A team could get bumped up to 1A or a class 1A school could get bumped down to nine-man. Now with this transition, the thinking is they’ll only have to check enrollment every two years. Now they’ll do the nine-man classification the same time they do the classifications for all of the other sports.”

Johnson said Verndale’s two largest classes are its eighth-grade and junior classes, but with free-and-reduced numbers and everything else, it will be hard to tell what happens to the Pirates next fall.

“With all of the stuff going on, it’s up in the air on how close we are,” Johnson said. “It’s really up in the air for us. What I do know is we are always one of the higher-enrollment nine-man teams so I’m always leary when those numbers are coming out.”

If Verndale did get bumped up Johnson said it might be for just a short period of time. However, the transition to 1A and then back to nine-man would be difficult, especially from a facility standpoint as Verndale’s football field would have to be widened.


“(Verndale head football coach Mike Mahlen) and I have talked about what this might look like, but we don’t know exactly what that would look like,” Johnson said. “Obviously there would be difficulties in that. There have been teams that have played a nine-man schedule and then had to play 1A in the postseason. That all has to be determined whether a district would let a team do that or not.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispat

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