After more than a year of trials, shut downs and confusion surrounding high school sports and activities in Minnesota, the 2021-22 school year is offering the hope of moving toward normalcy.
The state of sport as indicated by the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) and Pipestone Area Activities Director Rick Zollner, in our area, paints a picture that nearly resembles pre-pandemic scheduling and movement within districts and conferences.
With the exception of travel, to-and-from events, the MSHSL is not requiring any specific plans to be implemented, but rather offer a bounty of recommendations.
“Correct; the school did say masks will be required on any public transportation or school busing,” Zollner acknowledged. “That includes students coming to and leaving school and also our athletes traveling to away games. They will have to wear masks during travel.
“Outside of that, the MSHSL recently sent out a long list of recommended guidelines … things that were in place last year which it wants our programs to consider keeping in place. Things like coaches developing practices in small pods; they should keep track of who attends practices, and in which pods, in case we have a positive case. That way we can go back and retrace where they’ve been and who they have been around. The MSHSL has also made sport specific recommendations.”
Cross Country –
• Spectators should not have access to athletes and should be restricted to areas outside of the course width.
• When possible, design start area with boxes of 6’ in width, with an empty 10’ box between each school/team. If unable to accommodate in a straight line, consider use of a staggered/wave or interval start.
• Team camp areas, if permitted, should be isolated from spectators or other non-essential personnel. Team camps should be only available to members of that specific team, and not a shared/common space.
• If possible, set up a restricted area at the finish that maintains distance between spectators, athletes, and officials.
• Spectators should not interfere with the “quick exit” of each athlete. Additional flagging or signage may be necessary to identify restricted spectator areas.
• The use of an open finish corral is recommended to allow runners to immediately exit the finish area.
• Players, coaches and other personnel shall maintain distancing from the chain crew and allow them to perform their duties.
• Plastic shields covering the entire face (unless integrated into the face mask and attached to the helmet and clear without the presence of any tint) shall not be allowed during the contest.
• The kicker should retrieve the kicking tee following kickoffs/free kicks.
• Players should limit contact with tooth and mouth protectors. Tooth and mouth protectors should remain in place as much as possible.
• All conferences/time outs shall take place near the team box area while maintaining physical distancing.
• Follow the established host school guidelines and protocol.
• Designate team areas for competing schools.
• When playing indoors, schools are responsible to adhere to current guidelines for use of indoor courts and comply with guidelines and regulations as established by club rules.
• Recommended that host school identify procedures for teams/players to safely switch sides between sets.
As far as the scheduling of events, biyearly redistricting, impacted football, but no other sports. This has likely helped AD’s get sport/activities off to a solid and timely start to their respective campaigns and alleviate much of last fall’s confusion.
“Football kind of changed our schedule around a little bit, but I think it’s a good schedule – pretty close to old days when we played in the Southwest Conference,” Zollner said. “We get Worthington back for a couple of years, Luverne, Redwood and Windom are back on, and its pretty close. Volleyball and other sports are new to me, scheduling-wise, again, because we’re back to two years ago when I wasn’t the AD. Right now, we’re one match short there; tennis is pretty close to complete and heavily loaded in September, as usual, and in tennis we’re trying some new things where we’re playing in traveling quads … us and Luverne. We’ve tried to do some more creative things than we’ve done in the past.
“We’ve tried to get cross country a home meet, but it’s tough because most schools are locked in from year-to-year in same events. But we do host the Big South Conference meet on Tuesday, Oct. 19, where we’ll have 13 schools. We hope to springboard off of that as we’re looking to get at least one home meet on the schedule.
And Pipestone Area’s core group of coaches, in all sports, is back ready to make the most of a full, uninterrupted season.
“All the positions are filled with the exception of a couple Jr. High football spots we’re moving around,” Zollner said. “The varsity is in place with no changes to volleyball, cross country or tennis. Coaches (Chuck) Schroyer and (Scott) Rudie preferred not to come back this year for football, so we have some new hires and others moving up to complete Coach (Scott) Boomgaarden’s staff. I think it’ll be a good mix and I know Coach Boomgaarden has a good handle on who will do what out there.”
And in just his second year, Zollner is as thrilled as anyone to get back to work on making sports and activities fun, safe and competitive for all.
“I’m excited for our kids to get back and compete, represent our community and play the sports they love.”