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High School Sports: 'It's going to be really different'

Minnesota State High School League moves football, volleyball to spring because of coronavirus pandemic

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The crowd cheers on Willmar during the homecoming game against Alexandria on Sept. 20, 2019 at Hodapp Field in Willmar. If there's a homecoming game in football for the 2020-21 school year, it'll happen in the spring. The Minnesota State High School League moved the football season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Wanting a distraction from the decision on fall sports and needing to run an errand, Willmar football coach Jon Konold made a quick trip to the grocery store early Tuesday afternoon.

When he got back in the car, his phone was loaded with text messages.

“I get in the car and check my phone, I got 20 text messages in a half-hour while I was in the grocery store,” Konold said.

The decision from the Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors: due to the COVID-19 pandemic, football and volleyball are being moved from the fall to the spring, beginning sometime between mid-March and running until mid-May.

With a 13-5 vote passing the motion, football games will be cut from eight to six games with no scrimmages and a postseason plan to be determined. Keeping football in the fall failed on a 12-6 vote.

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“I’m not shocked, but I’m taken aback by the decision on moving football and volleyball to the spring,” Konold said. “I have lots of questions regarding logistically what will happen. … It’s good that we’re still going to be able to play (in the spring) and practice this fall and be able to be with the kids. It’s going to be really different.”

Volleyball will also switch to spring after an 11-7 vote. The spring option originally failed on a split 9-9 vote before being revisited after a vote to start the season as scheduled on Aug. 17 failed, 10-8.

The decision left Willmar volleyball coach Traci Grussing shocked. Over the summer, she said the Cardinals had scrimmages with 16 teams and had masks and temperature checks throughout.

“I’m really disappointed. I thought there’d be a lot of modifications but I didn’t expect to not have volleyball in the fall,” Grussing said. “We’re ready to go now. In the fall, volleyball is the only sport in the gym and the girls are healthy. In March, everyone is sick; it could be a sneeze, a cold, the flu… I don’t really foresee us having much of a season in March.”

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BBE's Karsee Kampsen puts the ball up for an attack during a Class A state quarterfinal match against Medford on Nov. 7, 2019 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Set to begin her first season as head coach at Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, Alanna Hunter was happy to have any season to play.

“These girls have worked really hard and deserve that opportunity to show that off,” Hunter said.

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Derek Flann, the head football coach and activities director at BOLD, said a survey from the Minnesota Football Coaches Association was sent out last week to coaches. The result?

“It was something the football coaches association made clear we weren’t big fans of,” Flann said. “The general consensus I got from talking to other coaches was a modified fall season.”

“But,” Flann continued, “I’m glad that we don’t have to do what last spring got (canceling the entire season).”

Paynesville football coach and activities director Max Meagher added, “I’m disappointed for the kids in the opportunities they’re going to lose. I had a chance to listen to the meeting and certainly the metro schools seemed to steer the decision, in my opinion. Outstate counties probably aren’t going to face those situations they have in the metro, but I could be wrong on all of it.”

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Abe Bullard and the Paynesville defense stop Minneapolis North running back Terrance Kamara during their Class AA state semifinal game on Nov. 14, 2019 at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

There are plenty of logistical challenges both sports have to figure out. There’s junior high sports, where to play — among area football schools, New London-Spicer, Minnewaska and Morris/Chokio-Alberta all play on turf fields -- and how fall practices will operate among the immediate concerns.

“I’m happy to have a season barring any drastic changes but there’s a lot of questions that pop in my mind and challenges we’re going to be faced with,” Konold said. “If we’re starting in March, there’s still snow on the ground in March. Then there’s transportation costs and where we’ll be able to practice to start the year.”

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In volleyball, club and Junior Olympic volleyball play in the spring, which could potentially force athletes to opt out of high-school competition.

“In the beginning of (last) March, they had to quit (JO volleyball),” Grussing said. “They had to sit not knowing what’s going on. Then with this summer, they’re excited and ready to go and we have to tell them again we can’t play and we don’t know what’s going on. Mentally, that’s a lot to ask of them.”

Both sports could run into issues with coaches helping out in other sports. While not set in stone, the football/volleyball seasons are likely to run from March 15-May 15. Spring sports would then run a condensed season into the summer from May 15-July 15.

“We have a lot of multi-sport athletes and even multi-sport coaches, myself included,” said Hunter, who helps out with track and field. “We want to be respectful of that.”

There’s plenty left to figure out. But for now, there is a season to look forward to.

“A lot of things are going to shift with everyone being in unprecedented times,” Meagher said. “Last year on March 15, I was at a football clinic. That time gives us a chance to learn and grow. And all of a sudden we’re having a season in March.”

Said Flann, “I’ll probably meet with coaches later this week or early next week to try to get some idea of what they can and how they’re going to make things work. There’s a lot to unpack in this.”

Football

  • Regular-season length reduced from 8 games to 6 games

  • No scrimmages

  • District and section-based schedule

  • Postseason plans to be determined

Volleyball

  • 20 percent reduction to the season; 30 percent reduction in matches

  • No scrimmages

  • Matches only; no tournaments

  • Conference and section-based schedule

  • Postseason plans TBD

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Willmar’s Lydia Larson sets the ball during a match against New London-Spicer on Oct. 7, 2019 at Willmar Senior High School in Willmar. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

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