For the second time, the 2020 Minnesota high school sports season was interrupted this week.
On Wednesday night, Gov. Tim Walz mandated a statewide four-week pause on organized youth and high school sports, which effectively ended the prep volleyball and football campaigns after Friday. Winter sports teams had planned to begin regular season games as early as the first week in December, but all of those arrangements are now on hold.
With COVID-19 cases exploding across the state -- putting serious pressures on health care workers and hospitals -- Walz told Minnesotans that they must act now to improve the situation. “We’re at a dangerous point in this pandemic. How we act, and how this virus moves, will have huge implications on the number of people who will be hospitalized and, ultimately, those who will lose their lives,” he said in Wednesday’s address.
Along with changes to youth and teen sports, all in-person social gatherings with persons outside the immediate household were halted. Bars and restaurants were put under new restrictions, and also theaters and gyms. Wedding receptions must be canceled or postponed.
Professional and collegiate sports are allowed to continue, but no spectators will be able to attend the events.
The disruption caused a flurry of activity for area athletic directors and coaches. The second round of section football competition was to occur today (Saturday), but several games were moved up to Friday.
One of those teams affected was the undefeated Murray County Central Rebels, top seeded in Section 3A. MCC had a first-round bye on Tuesday and would have had to conclude its season without a postseason game hadn’t a showdown been arranged for Friday night between the Rebels and Wabasso.
Friday’s result will stand as the Section 3A championship.
“Yesterday (Wednesday) was a long day trying to figure out what was going to happen. We were kind of prepared for all scenarios,” said MCC head coach Patrick Freeman, who went forward with practice Wednesday as if it were any other practice day.
Another Friday contest had Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda hosting Edgerton in Section 3 Nine-Man. The Coyotes were able to play just four regular season games this year and had one game canceled while players were still on the field awaiting the start of the first quarter. HL-O/F co-head coach Jared Bourquin said Thursday that his team was taking Wednesday’s news in stride.
“We told the kids all year we can only control what we can control,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Jackson County Central Huskies -- who eliminated Worthington from Section 3AAA competition on Tuesday -- chose not to continue.
“We would’ve played three games in nine days. It’s just not feasible for our kids,” said athletic director Shelly Hotzler.
The Worthington Trojans were able to get one last volleyball match played on Thursday, at Marshall. Their last home match was Tuesday, on Senior Night.
Head coach Jessica Hogan said the players are grateful for the matches they were able to play.
“The season kind of started out abruptly and it looks like it will end abruptly as well. But we are excited that we get a chance to have closure tonight as a team with one final game,” she said Thursday morning. “All season we have taken it one day at a time with a grateful mindset, and we will end our season with that same mindset. We got to spend eight weeks together as a team, played in some exciting matches, and we got to recognize our deserving seniors. That’s a lot to be positive about and grateful for -- you just have to choose to think that way, and we do.”
The Minnesota State High School League responded to the governor’s order with a statement. “We all know how important these programs are to students and to their mental and physical health and we all want students to participate. We believe League programs offered by our member schools provide the safest and most effective experiences and yet, at this time, we are required to take a pause. We look forward to returning to in-person participation in our winter sports and fine arts activities when these restrictions are lifted,” the statement said.
The decision did not sit well with “Let Them Play MN,” and Dawn Gillman, a Dassel-Cokato football parent whose Facebook petition asking that high school sports continue had nearly 9,000 signatures when Gov. Walz made his statement.
“I do feel frustrated with our leadership in the state of Minnesota in determining what was safe or not. If the season started on time, it still could have been shorter and it could have been wrapped up by now,” Gillman was quoted to have said.
The state’s soccer, tennis and cross country seasons were able to finish earlier this fall with shortened schedules. Volleyball and football were originally pushed back to spring, then started in late September after pushback from coaches and parents.