When the clock strikes midnight tonight, the ball will end for high school sports in Minnesota.
Gov. Tim Walz announced a number of temporary shutdowns on Wednesday due to the COVID-19 pandemic and youth and high school sports are among the activities that will cease.
High school football and volleyball are two high school sports still being played. Volleyball has yet to start its postseason while football was in the middle of section tournament play. The next round of football playoff games was set for Saturday, but now most teams still alive in their section tournaments have adjusted their schedules to play one last game this season, on Friday.
“We’re just looking forward to getting on the field one more time,” Blooming Prairie football coach Chad Gimbel said. “That’s kind of been our mantra as we’ve gone through this, ‘Just one more day.’ Because we didn’t know when it could end. So at least now we know when the final buzzer is going off on the season.”
Blooming Prairie plays in Section 1A and was among the area teams that is moving play to Friday night. The Blossoms, the defending Class A state champions, will host Randolph in the Section 1A title game at 7 p.m.
“They’re happy for that opportunity and that privilege to get to play,” Gimbel said. “It’s not a right, it’s a privilege and they’re thankful for that and I’m thankful that I get to coach a great group of kids one more time.”
Several other sections involving local teams will also play on Friday. In Section 1AA, Chatfield will host to Triton in the section championship while Waseca will host Plainview-Elgin-Millville for the Section 1AAA title. Both those games start at 7 p.m.
In Section 1 Nine-Man games moved to Friday night, Lanesboro will play at Grand Meadow in the championship game while Spring Grove plays at LeRoy-Ostrander. The Superlarks will be short-handed heading into the Section championship game, but Gary Sloan is thankful his team will have a chance to go out on top.
"I’m pretty happy we get to play, but it’s been all over the place," Sloan said. "I got up in the morning and thought we were going to be done. Then I got an email that said if we’re able to play, it'd be No. 1 vs. No. 2. Couple of hours later, we weren't sure if it was going to affect outdoor sports. And then we didn't think we were going to play again. It’s not ideal. 50 hours before the game that we find out that we’re going to play Lanesboro. I never take my cell phone to the practice field, but we were wrapping up practice when we found out. Thankful our guys have a chance to play. Some young guys will have to step up. I think we'll play well."
In Section 4AAA, the semifinals were supposed to be played Saturday, but that plan has been scrapped. Top-seeded Cannon Falls will now host St. Croix Lutheran in the championship game at 7 p.m. Friday, while Lake City will play at Breck in a postseason game.
“I think this is a good decision to not shut things down immediately," Cannon Falls coach Dan Meyers said. "It gives us a chance to wrap things up.”
With the threat of the shutdown looming -- and Rochester schools switching to distance learning on Wednesday -- Section 1AAAA and 1AAAAA decided on a single round of section play, which was played Tuesday.
“It’s just been an emotional roller coaster year,” Rochester John Marshall coach Kevin Kirkeby said. “It just seems like every other day I was dealing with COVID in one way or another. I think the kids are just tired emotionally as well and that’s unfortunate because I think they over exceeded a lot of expectations.”
JM was forced to cancel one of its games during the season due to the pandemic. The Rockets suffered a narrow 28-26 loss to city rival Century in a Section 1AAAAA playoff game on Tuesday.
“It’s been a hard season, it’s been a rough season,” Blooming Prairie's Gimbel said. “It’s been a rough few months for these kids. Obviously they’ve had to give up a lot of their high school careers, starting last spring and now into the fall and I’m sure it will go a little into the winter, too.”
Blooming Prairie was one of many football teams that did not get to play a full allotment of six regular-season games. Friday's playoff game will be just the fifth game for the Blossoms.
“We’re happy that we get to play that game,” Gimbel said. “We wish it wasn’t so rushed, but thankful that we get to play at least one more time.”
Under the original schedule, section semifinal game were slated for this Saturday with championship games scheduled for next weekend. A number of schools had already stopped playing football on their own accord and never played a single postseason game.
“With all of the COVID out there, I see no reason to string things out into next week," Meyers said. "People and teams are already dropping out (due to the pandemic) like crazy.”