BEMIDJI -- The wait is almost over for Bemidji High School athletes and fans.

Winter sports return to town this week for the first time since the pandemic first established a foothold on everyday life last year. While this season is of course going to look different than any other, there is still plenty of excitement surrounding the return of jump balls, faceoffs and takedowns at the high school level.

Girls hockey has opening ceremony honors. The team is the only one at home on the first day of events, and they’ll face Rocori-River Lakes at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Bemidji Community Arena. The wrestling team hits the home mat a day later, taking on Thief River Falls and Perham at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15, at BHS.

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For the other teams, the journey begins on the road.

On Thursday, boys basketball travels to Alexandria and boys hockey travels to Roseau. The boys swimming and diving team will head to Sauk Rapids-Rice, and the Nordic skiing team will be in Moorhead, as well.

Girls basketball tips off the season in Brainerd on Friday, and boys hockey will also be at Delano on Saturday to round out the week’s action.

Boys basketball will first play at home on Tuesday, Jan. 19, against Sartell-St. Stephen, while girls basketball has to wait until Thursday, Jan. 21, against Rocori. The gymnastics team opens its season on Jan. 21 when it hosts St. Cloud Tech at the Gym Bin.

The boys hockey team will skate on home ice for the first time Friday, Jan. 22, against Crookston. The Nordic skiing teams will be at Buena Vista on Saturday, Jan. 23, and boys swimming and diving is finally in the BHS pool Jan. 26 against St. Cloud Tech/Rocori.

Of course, games will only be played if it can be done safely. A handful of BHS contests were postponed or canceled in the fall due to COVID-19 issues, but never due to outbreaks within any of the Bemidji programs.

The girls hockey team is already facing the hardships of COVID-19 obstacles. Their home game against Moorhead, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 23, has been postponed.

Basketball and hockey players will also be required to wear a mask during competition, which is a Minnesota Department of Health mandate. Athletes in other sports will not be required to wear a mask during play but may have to on the sidelines.