Activities directors ready for winter season following MDH approval
The Minnesota Department of Health gave youth sports the green light, and local activities directors already have a head start.
The Minnesota Department of Health has given the Minnesota State High School League the nod to get winter sports underway. Following Monday afternoon's announcement, local activities directors are ecstatic to get their athletes back in action.
"All of our coaches, parents and athletes are all really excited," Alexandria activities director Ben Kvidt said. "We weren't sure when the games were going to start, but hearing that it's Jan. 14 is the best-case scenario."
On Jan. 4, teams can start practicing before games resume on Jan. 14. The MSHSL requires 10 days of practice before teams can participate in competitions. While coaches rush to get their players ready for the season opener, some activities directors are finalizing schedules.
"The MSHSL had three different start dates in mind, so we were going off of the Jan. 4 start date," Osakis activities director Pat Kalpin said. "We didn't know what the MDH was going to allow, so that was always the big question. If we weren't allowed to go on the 14th, that would've been a little frustrating. We have our boys basketball team going on the 14th, with wrestling and girls basketball getting their first action on the 15th. Even if the season was pushed off for a couple of weeks, those dates are hard to reschedule."
Kvidt is putting the finishing touches on his schedules thanks to the Central Lakes Conference's proactive approach.
"For the most part, we are all scheduled up," Kvidt said. "Roger Wilson, our conference secretary, did a good job of putting together three different schedules based on whenever we could start. Once we got the go-ahead, we were able to implement those schedules right away. We are ready to go, and we are excited about that."
Players will return with masks when they get back to practice in January. The MDH will require all athletes to wear face coverings in practices and games except for in wrestling, swimming and diving, and gymnastics. Face coverings must cover the mouth and nose completely at all times.
"Like I told my assistant coaches and what we will tell our kids is this is not our decision," Brandon-Evansville activities director Trent Hintermeister said. "We are going to do whatever's asked of us to get to play. It's not our decision, so there's no reason to complain about it. We have to do whatever we have to do to play, and they're giving us that opportunity."
The same sentiment holds true in Alexandria and Osakis, but Kalpin is concerned with how masks will be enforced.
"When the MDH came out with the guidelines for opening the schools after Christmas, and when they started throwing the mask thing in there for gym classes, we kind of anticipated this would be the case for athletics," Kalpin said. "How it's going to look and how kids are going to like it is something I couldn't tell you. My initial thought is when the kids are on the bench, they mask up. When they're on the court, they can take it off. I thought that was fine. What's the management style going to be for these masks? Are the officials or the coaches in charge? How is it enforced? We don't have answers to that yet."
Another concern for Kalpin is the time and space for practices. Each team must split into pods if there are over 25 players and coaches on the roster. With limited space available in many schools, figuring out how three teams can split into pods is a tall task.
"If we can only put 25 kids in the gym at a time, that puts us in a crunch for gym space," Kalpin said. "That pod size includes coaches and managers. We're going to have to find creative ways to schedule practices because we can't just produce gyms. There are going to be late practices and maybe some early ones. There's a lot of things that have to be answered. We might have 30 kids out for basketball, so what do we do for travel? It's not cost-effective for school districts to double up on busses. It's a wait-and-see kind of thing right now."
The bottom line is these activities directors are willing to jump through any hoops to make sure these athletes get a chance to play. Hintermeister, who also coaches the B-E boys basketball team, is excited to see his seniors back on the court.
"I felt bad for last year's seniors in spring sports that never got the chance to finish their careers," Hintermeister said. "I have two seniors on my team this year that have put a tremendous amount of time into basketball. Both of them would tell you that basketball is their number one love. I'm really excited for the kids, and I'm sure everyone around the state feels the same way."