BEMIDJI -- Short notice or not, the Bemidji High School football and volleyball teams are more than ready to play this fall.

“We always kind of knew in the back of our minds that (reinstating the fall season could) happen, but we never really thought it was going to,” BHS volleyball coach Alicia Kriens said. “The girls were really excited to hear that we have a season. I don’t think that we were really expecting it to happen, though.”

The Lumberjacks were the beneficiaries of the Minnesota State High School League voting Monday in favor of returning volleyball and football to the fall. Previously, the league moved both sports to the spring due to coronavirus concerns.

“You go into the summer and know football is coming in August,” Bemidji football coach Bryan Stoffel said. “You ramp up, and by the time you get to the first week of August, you’re in football mode. Well, that’s when they pushed it to spring. To have the football season sprung on you within a week, you have to flip the switch again of getting into football mode. Luckily we’ve had some fall practices to get us back into that groove.”

BHS won’t be starting cold. The teams have been able to practice thanks to the MSHSL creating a special three-week training window this fall ahead of the thought-to-be spring season. When the schedule switched back to the fall, the league took no action to remove the window, meaning the Jacks have gotten a head start on things.

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“We had practices in the fall prior to the decision, and we’ve had practices after the decision,” Stoffel said. “You could definitely see an increase in energy level at practice after the decision was made to come back. I think the kids are extremely excited. I’m super excited, especially for our senior class, that they get to have a fall with football in it.”

Fans across the state have been lobbying for the change. Among the most popular movements, a Facebook group called “Let Them Play MN” was created for those in Minnesota “who have lost out on their football, volleyball, cheer, dance, band or Spring Season Sports based on the MSHSL decision this Aug 2020.” The group has 19,790 members as of Friday afternoon.

Bemidji's Kate Hildenbrand (9) hits against Grand Rapids in a 2019 game at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Bemidji's Kate Hildenbrand (9) hits against Grand Rapids in a 2019 game at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Thanks to the league’s reversal, football and volleyball practices will officially open on Monday, Sept. 28, and games can begin as early as Oct. 8 for volleyball and Oct. 9 for football.

Both sports will face modifications similar to what other fall sports have adopted. The volleyball season will run for 11 weeks (beginning with preseason practices and including two weeks for section tournaments) and allow for 14 games. Regular season tournaments won’t be allowed -- nor will fans at any games -- and the season will end in mid-December.

The football season will feature a six-game regular season starting on Oct. 9, with crowd sizes limited to 250 people. The postseason will be two weeks, and playoff formats are to be determined during the MSHSL’s Oct. 1 meeting. A “full state tournament (is) unlikely,” according to a tweet from MSHSL media specialist John Millea.

Finalized schedules for both BHS teams are expected to arrive next week.

“It’s definitely been a scramble,” Kriens said. “Troy (Hendricks) and Sheila (Guest) in the athletic office have done a great job putting together a schedule. … We’re just kind of going with it. Everyone is very understanding and very willing to do whatever it takes to make things work.”

Kriens knows just how fragile things are, though, so she’s made sure her team also realizes the delicacy of playing this fall.

“We’ve had that talk now that there have been a couple other schools that have had to shut down because of COVID,” Kriens said. “We need to do our part in the volleyball world and in our little volleyball family to keep us safe, to keep us healthy. … That way we’re able to compete and play.”