Area coaches and players weren’t too thrilled when the Minnesota high school football season was postponed until the spring.

Thanks to a reversal by the Minnesota State High School League, the football season will be played this fall after all.

The MSHSL board of directors voted Monday (Sept. 21) to move football as well as volleyball back to the fall season, reversing a decision made on Aug. 4 to move them into a "flex" spring season that would have taken place from March until May. Minnesota is now one of 31 states (including border states North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin) that will be playing football this fall.

Before this special meeting was called, 394 members of the MSHSL responded to a survey with 76% preferring volleyball this fall and 80% wanting to play football this fall.

Both volleyball and football practices will start Monday (Sept. 28), with volleyball matches starting Oct. 8 and football games starting Oct. 9. Football will play a six-game regular season with a two-week postseason concluding on Nov. 28. Volleyball will play an 11-week season featuring 14 matches with a postseason structure to be determined later. Football games will be played in front of limited fans (a maximum of 250) while no fans will be allowed in the stands for volleyball matches.

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Before this reversal, football and volleyball teams were allowed to hold fall training sessions. Those sessions, which began on Sept. 14, were canceled after one week as regular practices will take over to prepare for competition this fall.

Park Rapids head football coach and activities director Jeremy Nordick was optimistic the MSHSL would overturn its previous ruling.

“I had a hunch that the MSHSL would push through on this decision,” said Nordick. “I was very excited to hear the news.”

Nordick and Menahga head coach Kevin Sommers don’t expect the change of just holding practices this fall to having to switch gears and prepare for a season in a couple of weeks will be that tough.

“The plan won't be too difficult to change. We will just have to fast forward some overall offensive and defensive schemes to adjust to whoever our opponent will be in Week 1. We also have to move some guys around to put us in the best position to win,” said Nordick. “We have had some great, friendly competitions at different positions, so who will play those positions will have to be answered a little bit sooner than expected.”

“The plan is to have a JV schedule as of right now. We're trying to get some varsity games as well. We've had a really good turnout of players, so we should have enough for a varsity and a JV team this fall,” said Sommers, who will coach the Braves after the United North Central cooperative with Sebeka was dissolved. “Changing our practice and our philosophies from the first two weeks of COVID fall practices to actually be playing games in the fall won't be too hard. Going into Monday our players have a good idea of our defensive and offensive scheme.”

The football season was originally postponed because of concerns about spreading COVID-19. Seeing neighboring states playing football without many athletes testing positive for the virus and knowing the uncertainty of having to play on snowy and frozen fields in March helped influence the members of the MSHSL board of directors to change their decision.

With no reported cases of COVID-19 among Park Rapids’ cross country, girls tennis, and girls swimming and diving teams, Nordick believes football can also be played safely in Minnesota this fall.

“As far as COVID, our school, staff and kids have been doing the best we can to keep everyone safe,” said Nordick. “We had an outstanding summer following protocols and I have no doubt in my mind that we can follow those safety protocols in the fall … and into the winter for that matter.”

The Park Rapids coaches and players can’t wait for the opening kickoff against Perham at Vern Weekley Field on Friday, Oct. 9. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The Panthers’ six-game schedule will feature Section 8AAA opponents.

“I know that all of our coaches and kids were hopeful to have a fall season,” said Nordick. “We had a great week of ‘training sessions’ last week and we're ready to get the season going.”

“I was happy when I heard the news. Obviously having the season now is a benefit when some of the guys couldn't play in the spring because of their own reasons,” said Park Rapids senior James Hartig. “We were practicing like we played a game that same week. I don't know if any other schools used the time to practice, but I think we have an advantage going into the season now because we have been practicing like that.”

“I was excited to hear some positive news. I would much rather play in the fall. It brings back the football feeling and there isn't a ton of snow on the ground. If we were to play in the spring, we never know what the weather will look like,” said senior Lane Monaghan. “It will take some work to be game ready, especially with the season being moved to this fall. The first week of ‘training’ we were lucky to have it gone super well. We are all gassed up to be able to play some games. When game time comes, Park Rapids will be ready.”

The Braves’ schedule is still being worked out, but Sommers says his players can’t wait to put on the pads and play under the lights this fall.

“When the coaches and I heard about the news that we're going to play fall football, we were very excited and thrilled for the opportunity to play. Spring football just doesn't quite seem like ‘Friday Night Lights’ in the fall, so we're happy to have fall football back,” said Sommers. “The reaction of the players was even more positive than the coaches. We had a lot of players just chomping at the bit to play football and we're really pumped up that they can play this fall.”