Touchdowns will be scored and volleyballs spiked by Minnesota high school teams after all in the coming weeks.
The Minnesota State High School League, in a reversal of its decisions made on Aug. 4, voted on Monday morning, Sept. 21, to allow football and volleyball to happen despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Football practices will be allowed to begin in full on Sept. 28, with a six-week regular-season game schedule to follow. Games will begin on Oct. 9 and 10. Volleyball practices have a beginning date of Sept. 28, with 14 competition dates to follow after 10 practices. Matches may begin on Oct. 8.
Section tournaments are being designed for both sports as culminating events, though the possibility for state tournaments in all fall sports still remains.
The MSHSL had earlier deemed the close contact inherent in those two sports to be too risky to allow them to be played during a pandemic. So they’d moved them to spring, while allowing lesser-contact sports swimming and diving, cross-country, girls tennis and boys and girls soccer to proceed.
The MSHSL board voted by landslide to bring back both sports. Football prevailed 15-3, while the volleyball vote was 14-4 in favor.
There had been a serious push recently for both football and volleyball to be reinstated this fall, including parents assembling outside of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s residence in St. Paul with the rallying cry, “Give us the ball. Let’s play this fall.”
Minnesota high school football fans had pointed to all four of the states sharing a border with Minnesota — Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota — being allowed to play football this fall, and were asking why Minnesota wasn’t being given the same permission.
Another rallying point was the Big Ten Conference last week electing to reverse its prior decision to push football from this fall to next spring due to the pandemic. Now, the Big Ten, which includes the University of Minnesota, has rolled out an eight-game schedule that begins on Oct. 24
The reaction by many southeastern Minnesota football and volleyball coaches bordered on elation over the news, even while questions loom about protocol during the pandemic, as well as disappointment being felt over shortened seasons and the possibility of no state tournaments this fall.
Kasson-Mantorville volleyball coach Adam VanOort felt relief as much as happiness over the MSHSL’s decisions.
“I think this is better for all of the players, coaches and officials to have the high school volleyball season in the fall,” VanOort said. “It will be better for winter and spring club volleyball not to sandwich high school volleyball between them. You don’t want to have kids choosing between club and high school volleyball. There is no good reason for the MSHSL and club volleyball to pick a fight with each other. Everything works better when we are working together.”
One individual who didn’t react with immediate glee to Monday’s news was Lake City volleyball coach Kirk Thornton. While Thornton knows that COVID-19 might not feel real to some, or regard it as much of a threat, he knows better.
That’s because he is living it right now, having been diagnosed with COVID-19 a week ago. He won’t be good to start coaching until a day after teams are allowed to assemble.
“Safety (surrounding the pandemic) is a concern for me now,” Thornton said. “I never thought I’d be someone who’d get COVID, never thought it would be something that would happen to me. But I know that it is real now and know how fast it could shut down a (volleyball) program.”
Still, he says his juices are flowing now that it’s sunk in that volleyball is going to happen in a week.
“Now that it's here, we are going to be ready to play,” he said. “It’s been a strange last six months, but I can go with the flow now.”