As winter sports remains on hold, coaches stay in contact with their athletes

Worthington High School girls basketball coach Eric Lindner is learning new ways to reach his players during the latest Minnesota sports shutdown. He’s maintaining communication through texting, emailing and zoom meetings.

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Hills-Beaver Creek's Cole Baker (in white) takes the lane as Adrian/Ellsworth's Lance Luettel and Noah Reyne (4) defend in a 2019-20 boys basketball game. Minnesota high school teams are in a "pause" for the 2020-21 season. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

Worthington High School girls basketball coach Eric Lindner is learning new ways to reach his players during the latest Minnesota sports shutdown. He’s maintaining communication through texting, emailing and zoom meetings.

“I’m too old for the social media stuff,” he admits.

He did, however, learn how to forward YouTube motivational videos for his Trojans.

“The best thing is to keep their spirits up. It’s kind of a tough thing for the kids because they keep moving the ball,” he said.

After a cancellation of spring sports, after a late start to the fall season, after no start and then a late start for volleyball and football, and now a new disruption to the beginning of the winter season, Minnesota high school sports fans must be feeling like they’re being batted around like a volleyball about now. Hope springs eternal, however, and the Minnesota State High School League hasn’t been twiddling its thumbs.


Last week, the MSHSL forwarded three possible dates for the start of team practice: Dec. 21, Jan. 4 and Jan. 18. It all depends, of course, on what Gov. Tim Walz might announce when the four-week pause ends on Dec. 18.

If practices actually can begin on Dec. 21, actual games and meets can begin early in the New Year. But if practicing begins at a later date, current athletic schedules could be moved back two weeks or even longer, causing several events to be postponed or even canceled.

Some postponed games, however, might eventually be played. The state has mandated that teams can’t play more than two events in a week, but late in the season that order might be relaxed to allow three.

If practices aren’t approved until Jan. 18, actual competitions won’t begin until Jan. 25 or even later. That would mean 11-week seasons and 18 regular season events for basketball and hockey, at most -- far less than the 17-18-week seasons and 25-26 games in normal years.

Murray County Central athletic director James Wajer said three different scheduling possibilities are being looked at in the Red Rock Conference. But at this point, it’s a waiting game.

“Everybody’s kind of waiting on the governor,” he said this week.

“The problem is that if we eliminate two more weeks, you’re going to limit the number of games you can play,” Wajer added, and he noted the irony of it, as well, as he considered Iowa. “Sixty miles away they’re playing full-fledged basketball just as they played full-fledged football.”

Fulda athletic director Colby Pack has an eye on Iowa, too.


“There are schools 20 miles south of us who are rockin’ and rollin’ with their winter season. … I think that’s the frustrating part of it for us, knowing we’re so close to that,” he said.

The shutdown is frustrating for a lot of people -- athletes, parents, coaches, athletic directors and fans -- but coaches are still able to talk to their charges. No, they can’t practice with them, but at least they can throw a virtual arm around their shoulders.

At MCC, said Wajer, contracts aren’t offered to coaches until the season actually begins. Once the season does start (keep your fingers crossed), things will happen quickly.

For Wajer, that means a few more headaches. For instance, teams of all sports will jockey for precious gym time, including junior high school teams. More equipment will need to be ordered. If a week or two of the schedule is lost, athletic directors will need to scramble to add postponed games to the back end of the winter.

Wajer said the eventual conference champions are likely to be decided strictly on winning percentage. Not all teams will wind up with the same amount of league contests due to COVID-19 issues that vary from school to school.

Some schools have been hit harder by the pandemic than others. Jackson County Central AD Shelly Hotzler said there have been a lot of cases in Jackson, which is already affecting future school considerations.

“We’re trying to figure out if we can bring the kids back next week,” she said. “This is the second week of distance learning.”

She’s not sure JCC can begin practicing on the 21st anyway, at this point.


Pack is skeptical of a Dec. 21 practice date, but like many others, he’s hopeful.

“I think everybody is hopeful. That’s obviously contingent on the governor lifting his order. I’m also realistic that we’ve been changing quite constantly,” he said.

What a time to be an athletic director.

“Not exactly the first two years of AD-ing I would have liked to have, but we’re rolling with it,” said Hotzler.

In about another week, the riddle will be answered.

Said Wajer: “You’re watching the fuse kind of dwindle down until the governor gives his announcement.”

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