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Finally, winter sports teams are starting to practice

After the traditional beginning to high school winter athletics was delayed a month out of concerns for rising coronavirus cases, players in boys and girls basketball, boys and girls hockey, gymnastics and wrestling began to practice for a season that’s just around the corner.

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The Worthington Trojans boys hockey team skates laps during warm-ups for a Monday afternoon practice at the Worthington Ice Arena. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Eighteen years ago, an NBA star belittled the idea of practicing in a press conference that became famous.

“If I can’t practice, I can’t practice. If I’m hurt, I’m hurt. I mean, it’s as simple as that,” complained Allen Iverson when his devotion to preparation was questioned. “I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice. Not a game … We’re talking about practice … Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game. We’re talking about practice, man.”

Yes, practice. It’s the thing athletes do to prepare to be at their best when the games happen. Iverson isn’t the only athlete that has ever complained that too much emphasis is placed on preparedness. The level of seriousness that athletes put into practice, whether pro or amateur, always varies with the individual. But on Monday, practice became a very serious thing, indeed -- and something to look forward to -- for Minnesota high school athletes, coaches and fans alike.

After the traditional beginning to high school winter athletics was delayed a month out of concerns for rising coronavirus cases, players in boys and girls basketball, boys and girls hockey, gymnastics and wrestling began to practice for a season that’s just around the corner. Those schools that started practice on Monday will be cleared to begin competitions on Jan. 14.

One of the unique things about high school sports in winter is that, for many schools, there are more than the usual number of programs available. At Worthington High School, there are six activities for athletes to choose from.

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More sports. More time to wait impatiently. But finally, the countdown to action has started.

Of course, there are the rules. Because the pandemic still hangs in the air, athletes in basketball and hockey are told they must perform while wearing masks. And social distancing is still being, uh ... practiced.

But there’s going to be a season. At least the schedule-makers say so.

Worthington High School has its first event scheduled for Jan. 14, a boys basketball game in Marshall against the Trojans’ arch-rival Tigers. On Jan. 15, the girls basketball team is at home against Marshall while the wrestling team contends in a triangular with Adrian/Ellsworth at St. James. On Jan. 19, the boys and girls hockey teams are in action, with the boys hosting Fairmont and the girls going on the road to play Fairmont. Then on Jan. 21, the gymnastics squad is at home against Luverne.

So go ahead and practice. And smile through that mask. Happier times are here again.

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