Empting “pretty hopeful” on outlook of having a fall season

Alexandria running back Nolan Morical gets to the edge for a long run against St. Cloud Tech last season. Morical ran for 1,514 yards and 20 touchdowns last fall and is one of the many athletes who will be keeping a close eye on the status of the 2020 Minnesota State High School League fall season with things still up in the air due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Many of the athletes who are getting back into activity through strength and speed programs in their schools are doing so with the fall season in mind right now.

Alexandria’s Mike Empting, who is helping run the strength and speed program at Alexandria, leads two sports for the Cardinals as the AAHS boys track and field coach and also as the football coach. He recently came off the emotional rollercoaster of wondering if there would be a spring track season before that was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, he is cautiously looking a couple months into the future with guarded optimism, hoping that a fall season can take place in a safe manner.

“I’m pretty hopeful right now,” Empting said on June 12. “Just based on the way things seem to be going. There’s clearly been much more social interaction with people. Non-school related sports and activities are going off, youth type things, AAU-type things, where people from other towns are coming together. Those are outside our school structure, but they’re happening.”

Professional sports are also starting to come back. After a three-month layoff, the PGA Tour resumed this past weekend without fans at the 2020 Charles Schwab Challenge. Other major sports leagues in the country are detailing plans to resume later this summer.


Minnesota Department of Health reports released on June 14 showed that the number of Minnesotans hospitalized due to the novel coronavirus had reached its lowest level since May 1. As of Sunday, a total of 369 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state, with 186 of them in intensive care units.

MDH confirmed 311 new cases of the virus Sunday. That continued an overall downward trend of new cases since May 23. That trend is occurring alongside the growing number of completed tests for the virus.

Overall, 30,471 Minnesotans had tested positive for the coronavirus through Sunday, with 1,298 having died of the illness, and 26,090 having recovered and no longer needing to be isolated.

Some athletic competition for kids and adults in Minnesota is starting to open back up under strict guidelines. Low-risk sports were allowed to resume on June 10, and the MDH is hopeful that medium-risk sports could resume at the end of the month.

Different sports have different levels of risk, and the MDH has issued its guidelines for resuming activities within three categories -- low, medium and high risk. Those categories were determined after reviewing recommendations from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the NCAA and the Minnesota Higher Education Athletics Workgroup.

Football is in the high-risk category as a sport that involves close, sustained contact and high probability that respiratory particles will be transmitted between players. Empting called the next month and a half a great opportunity to build up more data as programs resume in the state.

“As the governor gradually turns the dials and the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Education give us our guidelines maybe over the next month, I think we have a great chance to work toward maybe being open by the middle, end of July. That last couple weeks of our coaching waiver period,” Empting said. “If things keep progressing and there’s no issues as we go along, we could be at a point where we can do maybe full team camps at the end of July. Maybe we could have some intrasquad or between schools scrimmaging. Then on Aug. 7, that coaching waiver shuts down. The opportunity is there then to shut it down, see what happens over the next 10-14 days before we officially open for fall.”

Minnesota State High School League fall activities are scheduled to begin on Aug. 17. Whether or not that happens will likely be dictated by the trend of positive cases of COVID-19 seen in Minnesota as the state continues to open up in phases.


Will a fall season take place? Will fans be allowed to attend games and meets? Those are questions still unanswered, but the time when decisions will have to be made is getting closer.

“Being an outdoor sport like football, soccer, tennis, I feel like we have a greater chance as far as fans go,” Empting said. “We’ll have to see. If they don’t feel it’s safe to be outside doing soccer or football or tennis in October, then what’s going to change to be safe inside in November (for winter sports)? I feel like maybe we’re either going to have a fall (season) or possibly nothing until spring. Those are just my thoughts.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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