The outline is in place for Minnesota schools and their opening next month.
Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday that individual school districts will have guidelines to follow, to determine whether they offer in-school classes with the COVID-19 pandemic still uncontrolled. The discretion comes with a couple of requirements, with masks and social distancing mandatory for students and faculty.
One aspect still unresolved in a return to school, though, is what to do with fall sports.
The Minnesota State High School League is expected to make that determination on Tuesday. It won’t be easy, with sports being played during a pandemic rife with potential problems.
That starts with two of Walz’s school-day requirements. Mask wearing is unlikely in all fall athletics. And while some social distancing can take place in swimming and tennis, it’s impossible in contact sports football and soccer.
The question then becomes how much risk should players, coaches and officials be expected to take in order to get their seasons in.
At least two Rochester coaches — Lourdes boys soccer coach Tom Kane and Century football coach Jon Vik — have doubts about proceeding this fall, though both say they’ll direct their teams if the MSHSL gives the green light.
For now, both are preparing as if there will be a season and have been doing that for months.
“I’m getting our players as ready as I can,” said the 64-year-old Kane, who announced a year ago that 2020 will be his final of 25 seasons coaching Lourdes boys soccer. “We are having a soccer camp this week, and we aren’t doing anything one-on-one yet (social distancing in mind). Plus, all of us coaches at camp are wearing masks. But if the Minnesota State High School League says it’s full go when the season is set to start on Aug. 17, then we will get back to normal and push them hard for 10 days (before the team’s opener).”
Kane admits, however, that he’ll be doing that pushing with some fear in the back of his mind. At 64, he knows that he’s more at risk than the teenagers he’s coaching should he contract COVID-19. He also worries for other coaches on his staff.
“As an older person, I have concern for myself,” Kane said. “I talked to Charlie (Abboud, who at the age of 81, retired recently as Rochester Mayo’s longtime boys soccer coach, COVID-19 in mind). Because of my age, I am also more at risk. I don’t want to get it.”
Vik wonders if starting the football season this fall would be an exercise bound for failure.
As eager as he is to get going on it and was reminded of that again Thursday when he drove past the Century football practice field and was hit with his usual craving for the sport and being with his players, he knows there are so many minefields waiting with the presence of COVID-19.
It’s not just a worry for him, fellow coaches and players, but also for officials, bus drivers and players’ parents.
It’s a pandemic that can wreak havoc on those who get it, including death for some.
The MSHSL knows that, and will certainly put rules in place requiring teams to shut things down if they have a COVID-19 outbreak.
Vik believes those outbreaks are likely, either for his team or ones it’s scheduled to play. His wish is for his players to get in an entire season of football. But in this pandemic, he doubts that will happen this fall.
“I think every coach I’ve talked to would love to have football start in the fall and that we’d have a full season,” said Vik, whose school had to shut down some summer training due to a couple of COVID-19 cases. “But the odds of us having a full season don’t seem very strong at this time.”
Through all of the wondering, Vik and his players have approached the summer as they always do. They’re pushing to have a dynamic season, if one presents itself.
Vik has been delighted with the work they’ve put in, all of it done outdoors and with other COVID-19-related precautions in place.
While Vik and Kane have reservations about a fall season in their sports, Mabel-Canton Hall of Fame volleyball coach Lonnie Morken has less worry.
While noting that there are zero cases of COVID-19 in his community, he thinks it’s paramount that kids start leading more normal lives again.
That, he hopes, will include his players having a full volleyball season. Morken predicts that will be the MSHSL’s announcement Tuesday, that his and all fall sports will at least begin as normal.
“I am pretty confident about it,” said Morken, who’s also predicting a mandate of significantly smaller crowd sizes. “I think the Minnesota State High School League wants to get everyone back and playing on Aug. 17.”
That will be the right move, Morken said, as much for the mental and physical health of teenagers as anything.
“Physicians are saying that kids need sports,” Morken said. “They need it from the competitive and the exercise angle, as well as for their emotional well being. I think we’ll give it a shot.”