Sports and extracurricular activities will still be happening in Detroit Lakes this coming school year, but it won’t be business as usual as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic prompts unprecedented safety precautions across Minnesota -- including a delayed season for football and volleyball.
The Detroit Lakes School District will start hashing out the details of its fall sports schedule this week, after the Minnesota State High School League’s Tuesday, Aug. 4, announcement of new statewide rules for high school sports in light of the pandemic.
The league's board of directors has had a special task force working since mid-July on programming options for the 2020-2021 school year. The goal has been to ensure all MSHSL sports are played at some point this year, with top priority being the health and safety of students, coaches and everyone else involved.
After the task force's recommendations, the board voted Tuesday to allow lower-risk fall sports including soccer, boys and girls cross country, girls tennis and girls swimming and diving to begin practices Aug. 17, but with restrictions like shorter seasons and fewer competitions; football and volleyball, which are considered higher-risk, will shift to a March 15-May 15 season, also with restrictions.
The league said school districts must follow Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for fan capacity and transportation.
Tuesday's announcement means football and volleyball are essentially getting their own new sports season, "so we will have four seasons, technically ... and the spring season will now go into July," according to Abby Pettit, the activities and athletics administrative assistant at Detroit Lakes High School.
Activities Director Rob Nielsen said he was a little surprised that the league decided to push football and volleyball out to the spring, but, “I’m not going to say I’m shocked. We pretty much knew that things were not going to be as normal, and it was just a matter of what that would look like and how it’s going to be.”
Overall, he added, “I think that these are reasonable limitations and expectations that we can follow. But it’s kind of like everything right now, where we’ve got way more questions than answers.”
As of late Tuesday evening, the MSHSL had yet to provide districts with detailed safety protocols for each specific sport, Nielsen said. He hoped to have those in hand before the end of this week so local students and parents can get some clear direction by Monday or Tuesday. The district plans to open online registration next week.
The league’s announcement came ahead of any sort of finalized school reopening plan for Detroit Lakes Public Schools. District leaders will be meeting to talk more about that plan this Thursday, Aug. 6. Gov. Tim Walz, along with state health and education leaders, revealed their recommendations for schools on July 30, but local districts still have a lot of decision-making to do.
Nielsen said it's possible that plans made now for the fall sports season will change in the coming weeks, and even as the year goes on. The state has asked school districts to be prepared for three possible learning models -- in-person, distance-learning or a hybrid of those two -- which might fluctuate as local COVID-19 case numbers rise and fall. Schools following the distance learning model will not be allowed to conduct in-person practices or games and must move to virtual-only instruction from coaches.
“It's really a moving target, with what's going to happen with things,” Nielsen said. “Really, a week from now, what we're talking about today could be totally different. Things change really fast and you've got to be ready to adapt . . . and move on to the next best thing to handle this.”
The good news, he said, “is right now it looks like every sport is going to get an opportunity...to do their thing. That’s the really positive thing, where the league really looked at it like, ‘How do we give everybody a chance to have some kind of a season, whether it's abbreviated or not?’ Something is a whole lot better than nothing.”
MSHSL rules pertain to varsity and junior varsity players. It’s still unclear how middle school sports will be impacted by the pandemic. Local school activities other than sports, such as the fall musical and band and choir concerts, also remain up in the air for now. Nielsen said these are all things district leaders will be figuring out in the near future.
“It’s like everything else,” he said of the whole situation. “It’s what you make of it. It doesn’t do any good to be unhappy or frustrated. We’ll move forward and make the best of it.”
To read the MSHSL's Tuesday statement about fall sports during the pandemic, click HERE.