MSHSL’s decision on fall sports poses challenges
Moving football and volleyball to the spring creates four seasons for high school sports.
Jeremy Nordick and Bryan Wormley had mixed emotions when they heard the news for fall sports that the Minnesota State High School League’s Board of Directors issued on Tuesday, Aug. 4.
The MSHSL gave the OK for girls tennis, boys and girls cross country, and girls swimming and diving to start on time with practices beginning on Aug. 17. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the football and volleyball seasons were moved to spring. Those two sports will have their own season, beginning in mid-March and ending in mid-May. That means there will be four abbreviated high school sports seasons this year with spring sports starting in mid-May and running through mid-July.
“I was happy to see that we will be doing some of our sports this fall. It will make things fairly complicated without being able to have any invites for all three sports. There will be mostly dual events and limited spectators,” said Nordick, the activities director at Park Rapids. “The reason for not allowing some sports (this fall) is because of the risk levels. Football and volleyball are considered a higher risk to exposure of COVID than the other sports. Football and volleyball usually draw plenty of spectators as well, which increases the risk. That was also a big concern for the MSHSL, with families not being able to watch and support their kids at events.”
“I didn’t have a very high expectation for fall sports being played this fall. I actually felt the best chance we had would have been to play our spring sports (which we missed this spring) this fall with some modifications because they are considered low risk activities and move the fall sports to this spring. However the MSHSL has made the decision to move volleyball and football to a modified spring,” said Wormley, who is the activities director at Nevis. “ I can support that decision for the safety of all involved. Keeping cross country in the fall with modifications is their decision and we will do everything we can to make it as safe as possible. I believe the fact that cross country is primarily an individual sport and outdoors allowed it to be considered for the fall.”
There will be some major changes for the three fall sports. Girls tennis teams and girls swimming and diving teams can only compete in dual meets while cross-country teams can only run against two other teams instead of the usual number of eight to 20 teams. The season length will be reduced by 20% and the number of competitions will be reduced by 30%. All competitions must be against local opponents, defined as teams within a conference or section. Those teams can only compete a maximum of twice a week. That means all the schedules that were set will have to be revised. Also, the MSHSL will decide at a later date whether or not there will be section and state meets at the end of the season in the three fall sports.
No spectators will be allowed at indoor high school sporting events held at school facilities in accordance with the Minnesota Department of Education's policy that no visitors will be allowed in public learning settings. But activities held outside of school facilities can have spectators as long as they follow Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.
Tennis, cross country and swimming were all deemed lower risk sports while football and volleyball were listed in the higher risk category. That influenced the decision by the 20-member board of directors, which is made up of one representative from each of the eight MSHSL regions along with representatives for girls sports, boys sports, speech and debate, the Minnesota Association of Secondary Principals, the Minnesota Music Educators Association, the Minnesota School Boards Association, and members of the public appointed by the governor.
“Obviously there are some health concerns for all our kids, coaches and everyone involved with these fall sports. We will do our best to ensure they're in the safest environment possible,” said Nordick. “These sports will look a little bit different this fall, so we will have to work on the schedule for that when we receive a little more guidance from the MSHSL. Our cross country, tennis and swimming invites all will be canceled. We are not quite sure as to how this will affect our Middle School kids. Many questions need to be answered yet.”
While it will be strange not having football and volleyball during the fall as usual, Nordick sees some advantages to moving those two sports to the spring after all of last spring’s sports were canceled.
“It will certainly be different with football and volleyball in the spring. However, I think we can make it work and use it as a positive for both sports. From March to May, football and volleyball will be the only sports going on. So we may get a few more numbers in each sport. One big concern is what the weather will be in March. Most of the time we still have plenty of snow and it's still bitterly cold. We'll have to work out some gym space and get creative for a couple weeks when the time comes,” said Nordick, who is also the Panthers’ head football coach. “As far as adjusting the schedules for football (which will have a reduction from eight to six games) and volleyball, we haven't received much guidance as to who we can play. It was suggested that we will have to keep everything as local as possible. I am not sure what the cutoff will be for that yet. We do have teams like Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks on our schedule, so that will be interesting to see what we can do. I was just happy to see they didn't decide to cancel the season (for football and volleyball).”
There are also pros and cons for pushing the spring season back.
“As far as pushing back spring sports to the summer months, the weather should be fairly decent at that time and scheduling should be easy,” said Nordick. “The tough part of it is that many kids get summer jobs and seniors are making plans for their futures. Plus, we've got Babe Ruth, Legion, and amateur baseball in the summer. I am not sure how that will affect things yet. We also have our Community Ed events for many activities in the summer.”
“I’m concerned for the spring activities as they are getting pushed to start around May 15 and continue until around July 15,” said Wormley. “That is a huge change and will likely really hurt participation, but we will see.”
All these changes will be a challenge for the two ADs, but both are optimistic things will work out in the end.
“We will do the best we can to give our kids the best opportunities,” said Nordick.
“I have been on my phone and email since I got up (Wednesday) morning and I still have very few details. It’s crazy. Schedules are all out the window at this point,” said Wormley. “The winter season is likely going to be adjusted, but that would not be official until the next MSHSL board meeting. So we don’t know our dates to schedule contests as of yet or who we should schedule with or play or any solid time frame. I hope this information will be coming soon. I know I’m very stressed and constantly trying to keep up with everything as it changes, so I know that parents and students have to be feeling all kinds of emotions. It will take time and it will involve a lot of changes, but we will get through this if we all work together.”