Anyone looking to make definitive plans about the upcoming high school fall sports season, forget it.
It’s still too soon for that. And even once a proclamation does come from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and then the Minnesota State High School League, stay flexible. Things can change in a hurry in the middle of a pandemic.
Beginning last March, COVID-19 shut down in-person schooling and virtually all sports and entertainment. Now, with the virus still rampant, this school year might start the way last year ended — with classes conducted on-line and high school athletics not happening.
But at least for now, the plan is business as usual. At least as usual as it can be when the entire state is on orders to wear a mask at indoor public places and to continue social distancing 6 feet apart.
“We're planning things as if fall sports are going to happen,” Rochester Lourdes Activities Director Steve Strickland said. “But we’re just going to have to follow the guidelines.”
The guidelines will be coming Thursday, when Walz announces how school will be shaped to begin the year. The Minnesota State High School League will follow that with its plan for fall sports, drawing them up in compliance with Walz’s edicts.
There has been plenty of debating and planning within the MSHSL in recent weeks as it considers every possible scenario.
One of those MSHSL representatives is Rochester Century Activities Director Mark Kuisle. He says it’s not been an easy assignment, with so many unknowns.
“It’s been an interesting couple of weeks,” Kuisle said. “We have an ad-hoc committee looking at what to do with each of the fall sports, with that committee broken into sub-groups. They’re reviewing each sport and looking at pros and cons of having a regular season with all the games, a limited season, or looking at what happens if a season gets started and then is cancelled. They’re just trying to put it all together.”
Fall sports are so far scheduled to begin Aug. 17, when practices commence. That in mind, Kuisle says a drop-dead date for the MSHSL to have finalized its plans for the start of fall sports is Aug. 4.
“The funnel is narrowing quickly on us,” Kuisle said. ”We are looking at Aug. 4, but I get how everyone wants to have an answer right now.”
Kuisle, Lourdes’ Strickland and Plainview-Elgin-Millville Activities Director Scott Flattum all agree on one thing. It’s that being an athletic director during a pandemic is massively challenging, with all of their decisions left open for debate.
Still, Flattum tries to see the positives. He says that if nothing else, this pandemic has been character-building for those in his profession.
“I was raised to believe that things like this make you stronger and not to be afraid of change,” Flattum said. “You have to be able to adapt.”