Walz announces pause on high school sports

Beginning Saturday, high school sports will not be allowed for four weeks to combat the spreading of COVID-19.

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Bemidji huddles before a snap during a Nov. 6 game against Alexandria at Chet Anderson Stadium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

ST. PAUL -- The prep sports landscape is changing once again.

To slow the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Tim Walz announced a new wave of restrictions on Wednesday, which include a pause on prep sports practices, group workouts, games and tournaments.

The Bemidji High School football and volleyball teams will officially end their seasons once the shutdown arrives, beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20, and lasting until Dec. 18. BHS winter sports are also delayed from starting until the restrictions expire.

“It’s not easy, and it’s not fair. But it’s a sacrifice that we need to make,” Walz said Wednesday in his address. “If we don’t do that, and we continue this spread, we will with absolute certainty put our hospitals at risk and those that need the care, as well as the care providers.”

The Lumberjack football team will move up its Section 8-5A semifinal game to Friday to get it in before the shutdown. No. 2-seeded Bemidji (4-2) will host No. 3 seeded Sartell-St. Stephen at 7 p.m. at Chet Anderson Stadium. The game will conclude the season.


Some teams around the state have adjusted opponents in lieu of a full tournament, pitting the No. 1 seed against the No. 2 seed, the No. 3 vs. the No. 4, and so on. Moorhead earned the top seed in Section 8-5A but will not face BHS in a de facto section championship game.

The Bemidji volleyball team had three matches remaining on its schedule, including a road game at Fergus Falls on Saturday, Nov. 21, and was supposed to begin sections after its Nov. 24 regular season finale. With nothing on the calendar before the shutdown, their season ends with a 3-7 record.

“Much has been asked of you. And we need to ask a little more,” Walz said to student-athletes in his address. “… We’re at a dangerous point with this pandemic.”

Winter sports will not be able to start until the restrictions are lifted. Boys and girls basketball, boys and girls hockey, boys and girls Nordic skiing, gymnastics, boys swimming and diving, and wrestling will all have to wait until at least Dec. 18 to begin the season. Nov. 23 was the originally scheduled start date for the first of the winter sports.

A news release from the Minnesota State High School League said, "The League will provide additional guidance to member schools by the end the week regarding winter sports and fine arts activities. In addition, League Staff will continue to work with others to study options for the remaining winter seasons as well as those scheduled to begin in the spring."

“As a former high school football coach, I recognize the positive health impacts and unique developmental and social benefits of sports,” Walz said in a separate release. “But the 192 outbreaks connected to sports are too concerning to let these activities continue during this dial back. Sports-related cases are nearly twice as prevalent among high school-age children as any other age group, and they increasingly play a key role in the need to move schools to distance learning.”

Bemidji Area Schools also announced Wednesday that it will change learning models after Friday, Nov. 20. Students at the secondary level will transition to distance learning, while the elementary level will remain in-person with a plan in place to move online Jan. 4, depending on county numbers.


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The Lumberjacks ready for a point during a Nov. 14 match against Sauk Rapids-Rice at the BHS Gymnasium. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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