Dogs gotta bark, birds gotta sing, and athletes gotta compete.
In the aftermath of last week’s announcement that shook up the Minnesota high school sports year, nothing much was said about a simple fact of life. That is, that athletes are hard-wired to compete, and delaying their ability to compete can be very difficult for them.
They also long to be with teammates. The camaraderie they feel with their friends is more heartfelt than meets the eye, and when teammates can’t be together in their usual competitive atmosphere, a little -- yet important -- piece of them grows a little more dull and gloomy.
I know the feeling. When my 35-year career in men’s fast-pitch softball finally came to an end, I still heard those same fist-pumping songs on the radio (“The Boys Are Back in Town” and “Bad to the Bone” among them) that got me excited for tournaments, but knowing there were no more tournaments left to play, the feeling just wasn’t the same. A beautiful summer day where I used to say, “Great day for a ball game!” didn’t feel the same either.
I think it’s similar for high school athletes. And even more pronounced, in fact. They’re young. Their testosterone levels are high. They need to compete, and unless you’re a parent of one of those kids, or a coach, you might not fully understand.
Randy Schettler, football coach at Adrian High School, understands. Last week the Minnesota State High School League announced that scheduling for football, along with volleyball, will be moved back from the fall to the spring for the upcoming 2020-21 school year. When Schettler’s players heard the news, they were disappointed, he said.
Me, I was actually somewhat pleased. Sure, I would have preferred everything to remain the same, but I didn’t think that was going to happen anyway. A few weeks ago, the MCAC actually canceled the entire football and volleyball seasons for Minnesota West Community and Technical College, and in the back of my mind I wondered whether the league might consider such a drastic move for the state’s prep teams.
At least there will be seasons. At least we know that much, right?
Except that, when you come right down to it, we don’t.
I asked Randy why his Dragons reacted mostly negatively to the MSHSL’s decision.
“I think,” he said, “they don’t trust that they get to play. The questions are still out there.”
Indeed they are. This crazy coronavirus thing is like a runaway freight train that doesn’t stay on its tracks. Predicting the future of it is impossible, and so far, it seems, the “experts” have been almost unceasingly erring on the side of caution.
Some might call it erring on the side of fear; others will say that when health is involved, the safe way is always best. But it certainly can be maddening to the people most directly affected.
“There are no guarantees right now. They understand that as a player,” Schettler said about his troops.
So when the Dragons begin fall practices shortly, they’ll practice knowing there will be no game to look forward to for months. And even that is not assured. Schettler says he’ll put the kids in 7-on-7 drills and try to make it fun.
The AHS players, said the coach, at least were satisfied last week that the league “didn’t cancel it already,” but they’re itching to be a real team again -- which requires a real football game at the end of practice week.
“Their team competing (is what they want),” Schettler said. “Athletes are competitive by nature. They missed the competitiveness in the spring, and they’re competitive.”
No one, perhaps, can fully understand the feeling of loss high school athletes felt when last spring’s seasons were canceled -- which no doubt figures into the Dragons’ mistrust today. Schettler, though, says he’s doing his best to be optimistic for his players, and he also promises to be honest.
“I don’t want to provide a lot of hope if there isn’t hope,” he admitted.
There are many ironies to the MSHSL announcement, of course. One of those, for Schettler, is that he sent out letters last week welcoming players to the 2020 AHS fall football team. The timing was not good, but what was he to do?
“I waited as long as I could. I had to send ‘em out and be optimistic,” said the coach.