The rapidly-evolving situation around the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought the sports world at every level to a near halt and also brought with it a lot of questions as it pertains to the future and when we might see any activities again.
That feeling of unknown is where a lot of spring coaches of activities for Minnesota State High School League member schools find themselves heading into this week.
“I think they’re all getting a sense that this could be longer than the eight days that the governor came out with,” Alexandria Activities Director Ben Kvidt said of his school’s coaches on Monday morning. “They’re trying to make preparations as best they can. Some of our sports haven’t started yet...it’s the other ones like track and softball who were going for a week and it’s, ‘What do we do now?’
Spring seasons at a standstill
On the morning of March 15, the MSHSL issued an updated response to its spring activities that included no practices or workouts for teams from March 18 through March 27. The league had already announced on March 13 that there would be no scrimmages, contests and competitions with other MSHSL programs for spring activities and athletics until April 6.
At that point, teams were still allowed to practice, but that changed on Sunday when Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announced that all K-12 schools in the state would be closed from at least March 18 through March 27.
“It’s a lot of unknown,” Osakis activities director Pat Kalpin said on March 16. “We know what we have to do for these next eight days to prepare for distance learning, but as far as anything else beyond that, it’s all new to everybody.”
School districts all over the state were busy preparing a plan for how to administer distance learning and then communicating that to students before schools officially close on Wednesday.
Coaches for spring sports teams were also using Monday and Tuesday as an opportunity to meet with their teams and communicate a plan.
“I know they’re working on trying to come up with workouts and things we can send to our athletes that they can do on their own at home,” Kvidt said. “Whether it’s running around the block or working core strength, upper body-strength through push ups or things like that. What we’ve stressed with our coaches is be a leader, stay positive and use this as a teachable moment for our athletes. I know we’re going to have athletes who are frustrated about losing games, practices and events. I do think it’s important for us to talk about the greater good and the impact we can have on society by limiting exposure to COVID-19 and what not.”
Changing at a rapid pace
Last Friday’s original ruling from the MSHSL as it pertains to spring sports was met with relief by many coaches.
Games and competitions would not be allowed until April 6, but at least kids could continue to practice and prepare for the season. Sunday’s announcement that practices would no longer be allowed while school is not in session was another example of how quickly things are evolving due to COVID-19 and the attempt to limit its spread.
As of Monday morning, the spring activities season through the MSHSL is set to resume competition in early April, but coaches know that too could change.
“I think so, especially after this recent ruling,” Kalpin said when asked if Osakis coaches are worried about the spring sports season being canceled completely. “I talked to the coaches on Friday when we got the message from the state high school league at 3:15 that afternoon...When we got the message that they could practice, coaches were kind of relieved. It was, ‘Oh good, at least we can do that, move forward and keep the kids involved.’ But now with this new ruling (on Sunday), we’re cutting it off now.”
Kvidt echoed those sentiments that many coaches in Alexandria are wondering if there will be a spring season or not.
“Right now, there’s a lot more questions than answers, but I think our coaches are resilient,” Kvidt said. “They understand the situation, and they’re going to do what’s best for our kids, for our community and our society.”
On March 15, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that organizers cancel or postpone any gatherings with 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. By that standard, teams would be looking at a date in mid-May for a return.
“The other hard thing that people probably haven’t thought about is a lot of our officials and umpires are in that high-risk category (of older adults),” Kvidt said. “So even if we have athletes who are carriers and able to fight it off, if they’re carrying it and could pass it on to some of our umpires or officials, that’s concerning too.”
Disappointment for the students
Kalpin, who is a longtime coach himself in multiple sports and the current Osakis girls basketball coach, said he knows it’s a difficult time for kids who want to take part in their spring activities.
“I’m sure the students who are looking forward to their seasons, they’re just devastated,” he said. “The coaches feel the same way. They’re in this for them, and hopefully they get some kind of season in, but at this point you can’t tell them yes or no because you don’t know.”
Coaches will continue to hold out hope until told the season is off. Kalpin said the potential to resume activities might be there in a modified format that includes such things as no fans allowed at games or competitions.
“I hope at least they can do that. Get these activities in for the students at some point,” Kalpin said. “If it means without fans and that’s what we feel is best for the students, and they get the activity in, then do it. That’s what it’s about. I know the parents and fans love to watch, but ultimately it’s about the students and the athlete being able to participate.”
Kvidt said if any programs are able to overcome the hurdles of the postponements and get back into activities, it’s spring programs. Minnesota weather often throws wrinkles into the competition schedule as it is, but this is unchartered territory for area athletes and coaches. They are trying to remain positive with so many questions left to be answered.
“I think what everyone is hoping right now is steps we’re taking now can pay off later on,” Kvidt said.