BEMIDJI -- So what do we do?
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Minnesota State High School League on Wednesday pushed back the start of the spring sports season to May 5. At least.
That means empty fields, quiet stands and unworn jerseys that stay tucked in the closet for at least another month and a half. Coaches at Bemidji High School are playing the waiting game for now, and that’s about all that’s left to do as the fate of spring sports hangs in limbo.
“It’s really up in the air,” boys golf coach Seth Knudson said. “It’s hard because nobody really knows what’s going to happen. We don’t know if we’re going to start in May, or if we’re even going to have a season.”
“It’s such an unknown that nobody’s had to deal with before,” boys track and field coach Steve Sneide added. “I think that every coach right now is just hoping for the best and trying to figure out what’s best for their program.”
The BHS coaches are trying to prepare athletes for the possibility of a season, but, like most every other challenge caused by COVID-19, there are obstacles to overcome.
Until at least May 5, coaches aren’t allowed to have in-person contact with their athletes, per MSHSL rules. They can’t require or even suggest group practices, and they can’t require individual workouts or training. The league’s guidelines allow for communication through technology and optional individual workouts, but that’s hardly a substitute for schedules full of red X’s rather than final scores.
“All of us coaches are just dying to see the kids,” girls track and field coach Chris Lehman said. “We definitely miss them. I can’t imagine this being my senior year, too, and how excited the kids were. It’s just so much unknown, that’s the hard part.”
‘Wait and see’
If teams do eventually get the green light, the coaches kicked out possible solutions -- such as a shortened regular season. Any season would be better than no season, new girls golf coach Tina Offerdahl said.
“It’s the extracurricular part of it, it’s the socialization part of it that they’re going to miss right now,” she said. “I think the kids are missing out on that a lot because of all this. But you want them to stay healthy, so you can’t really push the limit.”
Without inside information or anything other than a gut feeling, the mood among most coaches is that the spring sports season won’t happen. There’s still hope, but many admitted it’s impossible to predict a future that doesn’t have a blueprint from the past.
“We’re going to have to live with whatever decisions they make,” baseball coach Mike Fogelson said. “If they give us a chance to play this spring, we’re certainly going to be excited to get out there and play. We just have to wait and see what they decide.”
Ultimately, the final say will come from the MSHSL. So far, the league has operated in accordance with direction from Gov. Tim Walz and the Centers for Disease Control, and that’s not likely to change moving forward.
“Really, the best solution is following the advice of the governor and the Minnesota State High School League,” boys tennis coach Mark Fodness said. “They’re well informed and, so far, making the right decisions for the safety and wellbeing of our community. And that’s what has to come first.”
Fodness’ stance covers the overarching mindset of his coaching counterparts: It’s not fair, and it’s nobody’s fault, but it’s the reality the teams have been dealt.
Seniors, no doubt, are hurting the most. Many will not pursue collegiate athletics, so this spring is their last hurrah to represent the Lumberjacks.
“It’s frustrating for all the seniors, for sure, because this is their chance,” softball coach Brad Takkunen said. “They had aspirations of trying to go to state. That was a little extra blow for them. They’re still holding out (hope). … The kids are handling it remarkably well.”
Answers will come, ready or not, and they’ll either provide athletes with a platform to compete or the disappointment that comes with not having that chance.
In the meantime, we wait.
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