Activities directors learn through the challenges of leading in a pandemic
From constantly changing schedules to trying to answer questions they don't necessarily have the answers for, area activities directors work through the challenges of leading their programs during the pandemic.
Accepting the job of a high school activities director comes with known responsibility.
One has to make tough decisions in regards to a tight budget while also handling conflict between parents, players and coaches, along with handling scheduling.
Regardless of a school’s size, 2020 has also presented many unforeseen challenges for the heads of local athletics due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Following a complete cancelation of spring sports, high school athletic programs waited and wondered if the same fate would happen to fall teams.
“It was difficult because we couldn’t answer questions that were being asked,” Osakis activities director Pat Kalpin said. “The only thing we could do was relay the information we got from the Minnesota State High School League. I never felt like I had a good pulse as to what was going to be decided, whereas in most big decisions like that from the MSHSL I do have an idea.”
What made the job more bearable was the cooperation of the parents and coaches.
“It got to be a little frustrating at times not being able to answer a lot of these questions because we didn’t have the information,” Brandon-Evansville activities director Trent Hintermeister said. “I wouldn’t say it was stressful because everybody knew I wasn’t the one making decisions by myself. We were guided by the state, the governor and the MSHSL. For the most part, our parents were very supportive and understanding during this process.”
In Alexandria, the relationships activities director Ben Kvidt developed made a big difference in year two on the job.
“When you build some of those relationships with the players, it makes everything go a lot smoother, which is huge considering this was anything but a smooth year,” Kvidt said. “In my first year, I felt like I was scrambling a bit trying to get up to speed. The job is the same, but the people were different. When COVID hit, I knew the people I had to talk to.”
Scheduling became one of the toughest challenges through all the uncertainty.
“We typically build these schedules out a year in advance,” Kvidt said. “We have teams and officials that we like to build up in our schedules, and when the fall came around it was a scramble. I think the biggest scramble we had was the day the governor announced fans could attend indoor events. We had a volleyball game that night, and it was a challenge to find people that could work that game. We weren’t prepared for it because we didn’t think we’d have fans.”
When the October snowstorm hit, the Osakis football team was left without a field to play on. Kalpin had to rush to find a new home turf for the Silverstreaks for the remainder of the season.
“The tough part about our football field started when our team had to sit the first two weeks of the season with a positive COVID case,” Kalpin said. “We hadn’t painted our field, which we usually do the week of the first game. When the snow came, and when we looked at the extended forecast, we thought the snow was here to stay. I immediately booked Alexandria’s field for the rest of the year.”
Even after the snow cleared, the timing wasn’t right to play a home game.
“We thought we could maybe play a game at home, but at our facilities, we have to winterize everything out there so pipes don't freeze,” Kalpin said. “We did have one warm week, but our boys were on the road in Morris. That would’ve been a good week to try playing at home, but then the next week it got cold again.”
Hintermeister was faced with tackling the challenge in his very first year on the job after he was hired as the B-E activities director before the start of the season.
“I don’t know any different from what’s happened this year,” Hintermeister said. “I’m not really 100% sure what this job is supposed to be like or feel like. Maybe that’s an advantage. Maybe running around like a chicken with my head cut off is normal. I didn't expect to have a role like this before the age of 30, but it’s something that I’ve always had a passion for because being able to work with kids in athletics is something I really enjoy.”
It looks like the winter season will present some of the same challenges.
“We’ve gotten much more comfortable living in the unknown,” Kvidt said. “We know that once we get the green light who we have to call first in terms of officials and how we are going to build our schedules. It will make this winter and spring a lot easier, but it’ll be another mad scramble once we get going.”
Every activities director is in unfamiliar territory, so keeping the lines of communication open has helped make the job easier.
“Keeping relationships with other ADs has really been a blessing,” Hintermeister said. “I’ve talked to Hancock’s AD quite a bit, and he’s been so helpful for me in just advising on how to deal with some of these problems I’ve never had to deal with before. It’s almost like it’s a group effort to get these kids practices and games. I’ve never been afraid to ask for advice, and it’s really helped me out this year.”
Hintermeister and Kalpin both coach basketball teams for their respective schools. They understand that adding more responsibility is going to present more challenges. At the end of the day, they want the kids to get a chance to play.
“I'm blessed with great coaches here,” Hintermeister said. “If I have to step out to take care of something for my activities director position, I know I can trust my coaches to fill in for me. I think it’s crucial to get these athletes back to playing sports. I think our kids need to have these outlets to play. It’s not healthy from a physical and mental standpoint for them to be cooped up in a house all winter. I hope that people understand that when we do get to start, fans might be restricted. But I have faith in the coaches, parents, and players in B-E to follow whatever guidelines are out in place for us.”