Student-athletes shouldn't start lacing up their basketball or wrestling shoes or skates just yet, but the Minnesota State High School League's (MSHSL) Board of Directors approved a "flexible plan" for prep winter sports. In a news release from the MSHSL Thursday, the league states the board "approved a flexible plan for the restart of winter activities when clearance is provided by state governmental leaders." Under the plan, practice could start December 21 with the first competitions as early as January 4.

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Dance was the one sport that had started in-person workouts locally before the implementation of Executive Order 20-99 which "mandates a four-week pause in activities designed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That is scheduled to expire on December 18," indicates the MSHSL announcement.

Some teams have begun virtual contact with athletes as they prepare for the hoped-for start of the season, according to some coaches and activities directors I have been in touch with. Under the previously revised prep schedule, many winter sports teams would have started their seasons in this first week of December.

Executive Director of the MSHSL Erich Martens states, "With the dynamic nature of COVID-19, flexibility is gong to be critical for our programs. We need to remain flexible in the start of seasons and in carrying them to conclusion."

"We know that the state and our schools are facing extremely high case counts and that adjustments in the models may need to take place...Should the winter season restart get pushed later, we may see shorter seasons and fewer games."

Scheduling models include time set aside for section tournaments with the "potential" for state tournaments. The model includes "a projected view of spring activities, maintain(ing) a traditional number of spring season contests and an end date of no later than June 19, 2021." The 2020 spring sports season was entirely wiped out by the pandemic.

Recommendations came from the league's Return to Participation Task Force.

The governor's Executive Order brought an abrupt end to the fall sports season for football and volleyball on November 20. Many football sections were able to revamp their schedules to complete a section championship event. No volleyball playoffs happened.

Many volleyball coaches I spoke with said they and their players were grateful for the chance to compete this fall. Back in August the high school league postponed the football and volleyball seasons to spring, only to reverse that decision later. Volleyball teams played a maximum of 14 matches. Not many local teams reached that number.

Football teams were allowed six regular season games. Quite a few did not get in that allotment, though most teams played at least one section game.

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