Press Box View: Lightning made it complicated for high school football

Zach Nickels tries to keep the balls dry in the rain during Lourdes' game Friday night with La Crescent at the Rochester Regional Sports Stadium. The game was suspended because of lightning shortly after this photo was taken, but they did finish before the night was over.

What a mess.

On Friday night, 22 high school football games involving southeastern Minnesota teams were scheduled.

A lucky few got them all in without delays. Several more had to take mandatory breaks to wait for lightning to stop, but finished their games.

But when the dust settled — metaphorically, not literally — 13 games had to be postponed when the lightning persisted too long. Twelve of them finished Saturday; one Tuesday.

At virtually all of the 22 sites, nervous eyes watched the skies as the storms rolled in, and administrators and coaches weighed numerous factors as decisions needed to be made.


(Speaking of nervous, one area coach reported that a game official asked a photographer to stop taking pictures because he didn't know what was a camera flash or a lightning flash.)

In Austin, the storm rumbled in before kickoff and made it a fairly quick and uncomplicated decision to postpone until Saturday night.

Lourdes delayed twice

In Rochester, Lourdes was playing La Crescent at the Rochester Regional Sports Stadium and the game started and continued until 7:40 p.m., when about five minutes remained in the first half.

By Minnesota State High School League rules, when lightning is spotted, a minimum 30-minute wait is required. When any additional lightning is seen, the 30 minutes must start over.

By the time there were 30 lightning-free minutes, the Eagles and Lancers ended up waiting about 90 minutes. Play resumed at 9:10. But ...

A little more than an hour later, another wave of thunderstorms approached. A delay started at 10:21 p.m., with 6 minutes and change left in the game (and Lourdes leading 41-21).

A look at radar made it clear that this wait would be lengthy too. At that point, all agreed to call it a game.


Contrary to a rumor, it was not true that the lights would have been turned out at RRSS at 11 p.m.

What was true, Lourdes activities director Marv Peters said, was that the field was booked for soccer at 10 a.m., RCTC football at 1 p.m. and RCTC women's soccer in the evening. And it was rented for Monday night (Sundays are not an option, per MSHSL rules).

Even for schools with their own fields, returning to play the next day wasn't just as simple as deciding that was what to do. Referees might have conflicts; other school activities at one or both schools might have to be considered.

That's why Saturday's start times ranged all the way from 11 a.m. at Lewiston-Altura to 7 p.m. at Rushford-Peterson.

Postponement at Harmony

The Fillmore Central home game with Wabasha-Kellogg was a good case study.

"We talked prior to them coming over that we would try our best to get it in even if we had to wait it out," said Fillmore Central head coach Chris Mensink, who also is activities director.

"We saw lightning with 3:51 to go in the first quarter and it continued for about an hour. At 8:30 p.m., after looking at the radar, we made the decision to come back Saturday.


"W-K had some kids involved with weddings that they had to work around and rearrange work schedules."

About an hour after the decision was made, radar indicated just south of Harmony rotation in the storm that sometimes is a precursor to a tornado. Some of the heaviest rain in the area then rolled through.

"The sirens went off in Harmony at about 9:30," Mensink noted.

Everybody returned at 6:30 Saturday night, when the weather was fine, just a few sprinkles during pregame warmup.

But the time in between was tricky.

"It was definitely a different experience," Mensink said. "We tried to keep it as normal of a game day as possible on Saturday. We did our normal pregame meal again Saturday, meeting and warmup to keep it business as usual. Our kids responded very well.

"You wonder how they will respond, we had just intercepted a pass and had it on W-K 18-yard line third-and-1 when the game was called. We did carry the momentum at that point.

"On Saturday we went with the play that was called at the time before it was suspended and converted and did end up scoring in that first drive. I thought that was a key."


It took an extra 24 hours, but it was a happy ending for the Falcons: a 21-0 victory.

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