BEMIDJI -- Everybody gets to play. Inside Bemidji High School, that’s the most important fact.
“I’m grateful that, at least at this point and time, it looks like every sport is going to get a season. That’s the positive you take from it,” BHS activities director Troy Hendricks said. “There are a lot of people who have put in a lot of hard work and effort into this thing, so I’m grateful that we have a season for these seniors.”
The Minnesota State High School League drafted a game plan on Tuesday on how to proceed with fall sports during the coronavirus pandemic. The ultimate conclusion was forging ahead as scheduled, with the exception of football and volleyball, which will now begin a two-month season in mid-March.
“We have a season. That’s the biggest part of it,” first-year football head coach Bryan Stoffel said. “I appreciated the modifications that the (MSHSL) board made that allowed us to have a season. … I just witnessed a group of kids lose their season in the past spring. So to be able to have a season, I felt pretty grateful and lucky and excited to move forward with that.”
There were compromises for the sports still allowed to compete in the fall, such as a 30% reduction in the number of competitions and a limit of 1-2 games per week, per team.
The MSHSL has also emphasized limiting travel, though it hasn’t offered specific guidelines for what is and is not allowed. In the soccer realm, where strong Bemidji programs often must venture farther south for quality opposition, the potential restrictions create a unique challenge to build a résumé.
“It’s a problem we’ve always faced, getting as many tough games as we can,” girls soccer head coach Logan Larsen said. “It’s nothing new. That’s just how we prepare in practice: pushing the mentality that we go hard against each other, that we aren’t buddies during a scrimmage, that we want to put on full pressure so we prepare each other for a hard game.
“We have a lot of strong players, so as long as we have that mentality in practice, I think we’ll still really develop ourselves, no matter who we play.”
The Lumberjacks don’t have conference affiliation for most sports, and instead operate independently. As schools adjust their schedules and search for natural opponents, Hendricks is advocating for BHS.
“We had every schedule pretty well set for fall, winter and spring. Now, every schedule is going to be adjusted and changed,” Hendricks said. “That means transportation, that means officials, that means contacting teams. … We have to fight to make sure they don’t forget Bemidji, because we’re independent in most of our sports. We need to be on their schedules.”
Larsen said he feels fortunate that soccer will continue in the fall. And he believes his players will recognize what it means.
“It’s a luxury, it’s a privilege,” Larsen said. “I think it’s something that they’ll appreciate now more than they ever have. It’s something that isn’t automatic, isn’t always there. So I think it’ll be a fun season.”
Stoffel, meanwhile, has to wait another seven months before he can truly begin his tenure as the football program’s 18th head coach. Brand new challenges are popping up -- for example, how do you practice in March in snow-covered northern Minnesota? -- but the wait and the problem-solving will be well worth it.
“No. 1, I think extracurricular activities are a bedrock to education,” Stoffel said. “It’s important that they are offered, because kids can gain so much out of them.”