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High School Sports: Football, volleyball move back to fall

High school league decides the two should play now instead of in the spring, much to the delight of area coaches

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Willmar offensive tackle Aidan Donelan knocks down a defender during offensive drills at practice Monday at Willmar High School. Earlier in the day, football was reinstated in the fall, with games set to begin Oct. 9-10. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

BROOKLYN CENTER — Game on.

Hosting a virtual special meeting Monday morning, the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors voted for football and volleyball to be reinstated back into the fall after being moved to the spring amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic during the board’s Aug. 4 meeting. A special meeting was called on Sept. 16 after a discussion to return to a fall season during the board’s workshop meeting the day prior.

“Even walking out here, there’s a different mindset for the kids,” Willmar head football coach Jon Konold said prior to the team’s scheduled fall training session Monday.

Konold tracked the meeting via text thread with coaches and Twitter.

“Now they’re practicing for something,” he said. “They’re preparing for games and that competition. They worked hard and deserve to have a season.

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“We didn’t agree with the decision that was first placed on it, but I give the board a lot of credit for reevaluating, listening to the facts out there and making the decision. It’s good to see them reflect on that and make a better choice for our kids.”

With a 15-3 vote, football will begin on Sept 28 for a six-game regular season with the first week of games on Oct. 9-10 and the s

article6671832.ece WCTpoll 092120 Do you support the MSHSL's decision to play high school football and volleyball this fall? Yes No Don't know

eason ending on Nov. 28. A two-week postseason will take place, with the format to be determined.

After a 14-4 vote the volleyball season will also begin on Sept. 28 and will have 10 days of preseason practice before matches begin on Oct. 8. Teams can have up to 14 matches in an 11-week season.

article6671832.ece WCTpoll 092120 Do you support the MSHSL's decision to play high school football and volleyball this fall? Yes No Don't know

“Our team has been playing since the beginning of July. We’re ready to go,” said Willmar head volleyball coach Traci Grussing. “On a good note, I’m happy we’re going to play. It’s a little frustrating because it was so chaotic when we changed to spring. Now we have to drop out of (club volleyball leagues).”

On Aug. 4, football was moved to a six-game season from mid-March to mid-May by a 13-5 vote after playing in the fall failed with a 12-6 margin. Volleyball was also put in the March-through-May “fourth season” with an 11-7 vote after the vote to play in the fall failed, 10-8.

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Push to return

Addressing the board early on, Dr. Bill Roberts, the chair of the MSHSL Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, said that from a medical perspective, not much has changed since August.

“There’s a lot of unknowns here; I think we’re facing a difficult decision,” Roberts said. “But at the same time, we are carrying on some other sports. The league has been trying to track those kids as best as possible and we don’t know if it (spreading of COVID-19) is from their social activities or their sporting activities.”

But, the desire for a fall season was overwhelming. In a survey sent out by the MSHSL to 394 schools, 80 percent wanted football and 76 percent wanted volleyball back in their usual fall seasons.

Max Meagher, the head football coach and activities director at Paynesville, was among the most vocal proponents in bringing football back to the fall after the Aug. 4 meeting and as states bordering Minnesota — Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota — proceeded with football in the fall.

“I guess I have to give up my lobbying job to coach some football this fall,” Meagher joked.

Elsewhere in the midwest, Michigan changed course and reinstated football on Sept. 3 after originally moving to the spring.

“On Aug. 4, no one could definitely say we would be watching our neighboring states play, either,” Meagher said. “Without knowing the data and seeing people around us playing, it doubles up the question of why not us?”

Parents and students rallied outside the governor’s mansion on Sept. 12, urging Gov. Tim Walz and the MSHSL to move football back to the fall. The Facebook group “Let Them Play MN” has more than 19,000 members while a petition on Change.org had more than 24,000 signatures.

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Last week, Meagher, along with Rocori head coach James Herberg, hosted an hour-long Zoom call with doctors Luis Garcia and Jeremy Cauwels from Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to discuss how to safely return to football in the fall.

“I’m so happy we have a season right now,” Meagher said. “There’s no replacement for the smiles of the kids in the hallways right now.”

A different-looking season

Concerns over the coronavirus will make for a drastically different kind of season.

With only essential workers allowed in schools per state guidelines, volleyball is slated to be played without fans in the stands. Coaches and players on the bench would be required to wear masks while the players on the court would not wear masks.

“We played in two leagues this summer: one with no fans and one with one (fan) per person,” Grussing said. “You have to make your own energy.”

When volleyball was moved to the spring, club volleyball seasons sprang up. Now with the fall high school season back, players will have to make a choice on which team to play.

“Unless they could grant some kind of exemption, then they could play both,” Grussing said. “If they can’t, (the club season) would be done. It won’t be a big deal for our team. It will be for others, especially in the Cities where people paid a lot more money.”

New London-Spicer head volleyball coach Erin Schoumaker said her team was playing in an eight-team club league on Tuesdays. With the league’s decision, the league is wrapping things up to not interfere with the high-school schedule.

“After hearing the vote, they’re making (Tuesday) night the last for the league,” Schoumaker said. “They’ll have the championship, then the twos, threes and fours (in the standings) will play each other.”

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Willmar's Brandt Sunder looks to run upfield after a catch during practice Monday at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Schoumaker added, “I talked to the girls and they are ready to get going. In fact, I think a few ran to Rambow and were on top of getting a clothing order. They’re ready to get to some sense of normalcy.”

Playing outdoors, football can have a maximum of 250 total spectators, including concession workers and pep bands.

“The decision by our Board of Directors both provide opportunities for many student athletes and also require everyone’s responsible actions in keeping students and communities safe,” MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens said in a press release. “It will be critical that our schools do their very best to enact protocols that maximize the safety of our students, coaches and officials.”

WCT Sports Show: MSHSL special meeting

Conferences for volleyball and districts for football will also have to be reconfigured with the reduced game total. A postseason plan is still yet to be announced. The next board of directors meeting is scheduled for Oct. 1.

“The big key will be how we prepare ourselves, not only mentally but physically,” Konold said. “Our guys aren’t in game shape at all without fall camp. Mentally, having all that downtime, getting into game mode… we have to flip that switch. Now it’s a little unknown with who we play yet. We should know in a few days.”

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Willmar junior Alex Schramm chats with head football coach Jon Konold during practice Monday at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

092220.S.WCT.Willmar football Schramm.jpg
Willmar junior Alex Schramm chats with head football coach Jon Konold during practice Monday at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

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