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We Can Weather This Storm If We Stay Together

“It's time to control what we can control and get better”

Posted: Wednesday, August 5, 2020 - 3:52 PM

Tuesday was a momentous day for Minnesota high school activities. I’ve been on the MSHSL staff for more than a decade and wrote about the League for many years prior to that as a newspaper reporter and I can’t remember a bigger day or bigger decisions.

The MSHSL board of directors faced the dilemma of how to handle sports in the age of Covid-19. As you surely know, the board moved football and volleyball to next March-April-May on the calendar and pushed spring sports back to a slightly later start in 2021, with those seasons ending before July 4. The remaining fall sports – soccer, girls tennis, cross-country and girls swimming and diving – remain on schedule to start practice on Aug. 17, with a shorter season, fewer contests, no scrimmages, and limits on how many teams can gather for competitions. No changes were made to winter sports.

There are so many questions that remain unanswered. A big question concerns the postseason; due to fears of teams from many different communities coming together and possibly spreading the virus, we don’t know if subsection, section or state tournaments will be held this fall. But the board rightly felt that the most important thing was to let kids and teams start their fall seasons, build those important bonds, and make lifelong memories together.

I look at it as a house that’s being constructed. Right now the building has been framed but there are no walls, no plumbing, no windows or doors, etc. We have an idea of the shape of high school sports, but so many details are uncertain.

The board’s action are pretty simple to understand: They took the best available information, especially Covid-19 guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health, and made the best possible decisions in the interest of the health and safety of students, coaches, officials and others. Uppermost in their thinking and decisions are the kids.

There has been, of course, a lot of reaction to the board’s decisions. Much of it has been negative but from what I’m seeing, those comments come mostly from parents. I have yet to see any high school students taking a hard ride down the negative road. In fact I have been encouraged to see kids looking at the changes as a challenge they are perfectly willing to accept.

Some volleyball players are excited that they can now play soccer, tennis or swim. Football players will have the chance to try cross-country or soccer.

Here’s an insightful Twitter comment from Mike Schmidt, the principal at Staples-Motley: “I just ran into a high school couple while out getting lunch. They’re overjoyed that their seasons (VB/FB) remain alive: ‘We for sure thought they’d be cancelled weeks after we return to school.’ Perspective: Kids adapt well.”

And Lambert Brown, football coach at 2020 Class 6A state champion Wayzata, posted this message: “Time to control what we can control and get better.”

During Tuesday’s meeting, board member and Edina High School activities director Troy Stein said, “As I've struggled with this decision for the past couple months, I know we all believe that sports teaches accountability to others, humility, leadership, the power of a growth mindset, discipline, hard work and many more. We know our teenagers’ participation in educational-based athletics and activities is the incentive for some to stay in school, for some to get good grades. And during this time of Covid, for many to stay off video games for a couple hours a day. School-sponsored sports and activities also provide another adult role model in their life, a coach, the coach as a mentor, someone who cares about them, someone to guide them, push them to the limits. And that is essential in this world that we're living in right now.

“Students are facing more screen time than ever before, more downtime than ever before. And their need for connection and belonging is extreme. Sometimes that adult role model is what they need, and sports often connect them. With school-sponsored activities and athletics, we are also held to a higher standard in our return to play. I think we all agree that the reason to start fall sports are desired by our students, our families and schools. The reality is some sports have an enhanced risk to put our schools and our communities at risk.”

Board member Frank White, a retired official and governor’s appointee from Woodbury, said, “I think it's important, as we've all received information from a lot of people, and with all due respect, all of us would like to see young people back involved in activities and sports. But I think part of our mission again is to ensure that this is done in the safest possible way. And with respect to the potential of comments about mental health, I appreciate all of that. But at the same time, the impact of Covid-19 also goes beyond that and can impact their total community. So I hope that we start again.”

There are no perfect decisions at this point. None of us can know what impacts the virus will have in one month, two months or a year down the road. What matters is health and safety. And as sport teaches, there’s no need to be overly concerned with what we can’t control.

James Paul, football coach at Wheaton-Herman-Norcross, posted a message on the WHN Football Facebook page after Tuesday’s news. (His message is also available on the MSHSL Facebook page.)

He wrote, in part, “In football we can control our discipline and remain positive on the field, we can keep our attitude in check, and we can control ourselves to do our jobs during each play. In life we can control our discipline and remain positive with our family and community, we can keep our attitude in check, and we can control ourselves to be a good role model for family, friends, and others who look up to us. … we can’t control the weather, we can’t control what the other team does, and we can’t control the calls that the refs make during a game. In life we can’t control the virus, we can’t control the regulations put into place, and we can’t control how long this lasts.

“I know this is tough for everyone, but kids want to follow those they look up to. If we weather this storm with negativity the kids will be impacted in a negative way, but if we weather the storm with positivity and encouragement kids will learn valuable life lessons and will get much more out of this terrible storm we are all navigating through together.

Let’s weather this storm. With positivity, with encouragement, together.

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio. 

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