Jennifer Johnsrud wanted to keep her kids excited about track and field.
The Minnewaska girls track and field coach had a lot to be excited about this year after the Lakers lost just four athletes to graduation after winning the Class A state True Team championship in 2019.
With the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in stay-at-home orders and the closure of schools, getting out on the track wasn’t going to happen.
“I was trying to stay as optimistic as I could,” Johnsrud admitted. “The Minnesota State High School League was working really hard to do what they could to even get a postseason in, or four weeks of the season and drag that season out a little further.
“We were posting workouts for the kids so they could stay in shape in case we were able to come back.”
Ultimately, shortly after Gov. Tim Walz announced the closure of school for the rest of the academic year, the Minnesota State High School League announced all spring sports would be canceled for 2020.
But before the season was canceled, Johnsrud had an idea: Schools are using virtual classrooms, why not have a virtual track meet?
“The main point to do it is to keep the kids excited about the sport,” Johnsrud said. “It’s just kind of fun for them to see (the results). We ended up having a really good season last year and it’s fun for the kids to remember that.”
Johnsrud first reached out to teams in the West Central Conference for her idea, with Melrose being the only one to join in. She then extended offers to section opponents and teams Minnewaska came across in previous seasons, getting Barnesville and Wadena-Deer Creek into the mix.
Like Johnsrud and the Laker girls, Barnesville girls track coach Michael Schaub had a girls squad coming off the school’s best season after placing sixth at Class A True Team last spring. He also has known Johnsrud for years. He was roommates with Jennifer’s husband, Phil, at Moorhead State University (now Minnesota State-Moorhead).
“We came into the fall really, really excited. We had 11 or 12 girls go to camps throughout the winter, January and February, at Concordia (Moorhead) and North Dakota State,” Schaub said. “We just had a lot of excitement. We had high hopes, then COVID-19 came in and took care of things.”
Track practice began around the state on March 9, giving teams only nine days before Walz closed schools in Minnesota on March 18, so teams weren’t able to record any times. So for the virtual meet, the teams submitted their season bests from 2019 for athletes who’d be on the 2020 roster. In the case of relays having graduated seniors, schools could replace that athlete with an alternate or adjust their times fairly.
The results of the meet came out April 23, the same day the MSHSL announced the cancelation of the spring season.
If anything, the virtual meet could offer a distraction for that day. The results had Minnewaska sweeping the boys’ and girls’ meets.
The Laker boys had 243.5 points, beating Wadena-Deer Creek (240.5), Melrose (95) and Barnesville).
For the girls, Minnewaska’s 236 points bested Barnesville (172.3), Wadena-Deer Creek (158.6) and Melrose (93).
“That was fun for the kids,” Schaub said.
“I think it kept them motivated to see (the results),” Johnsrud said. “We’re competitive and if we keep working hard, we can still compete.”