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Update: The National Sports Center announced March 26 it would suspend activities through May 1.
For Todd Johnson, the silence this week at the National Sports Center in Blaine is heartbreaking.
“There’s nothing more sad for any of us around here than seeing an empty parking lot and not seeing kids or hearing kids on our playing field,” said Johnson, executive director of the National Sports Center.
Like K-12 schools, the sports center is closed through at least Friday, March 27, in keeping with Gov. Tim Walz’s direction to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Currently the center is planning to reopen Saturday, March 28, but staff is monitoring the situation and Walz’s direction carefully.
“Of course we’re doing everything we can to make sure citizens are safe, and we’re complying with the best health practices,” said Johnson, who has a master’s in public health.
For now, the center is moving forward as if everything will reopen Saturday but has contingency plans in place.
Even if it does reopen this weekend, the center won’t see business as usual for this time of year.
The girls college soccer showcase scheduled April 4-5 has already been postponed by the sanctioning body due to the coronavirus outbreak, and the NCAA has asked college coaches not to recruit until at least mid-April, according to Sara Soli, chief marketing and communications officer for the National Sports Center.
After college soccer showcases, the center’s next big tournament is the NSC Kickoff Challenge, a competitive youth soccer event set for the end of April that typically draws 200 teams, according to Soli. The first week of May is the Spring Cup, which usually attracts 350 teams.
“We’re getting to a spot where the season’s getting ready to typically kick into gear,” Soli said.
Asked how much notice the center would need to give if big events were canceled, Johnson said a decision should be made around the registration deadline. That can be anywhere from a couple weeks in advance to a month ahead of time for larger events.
He added that currently the center isn’t using the word “canceled.”
“The word we’d rather use is ‘postpone’ or ‘reschedule,’” he said. “But we know eventually we run out of calendar.”
Large-scale event cancellation would be a blow to the surrounding community as well as the center, because each year the events bring in millions of dollars in economic activity.
“Last year we generated $89 million in visitor impact,” Soli said.
For now, the National Sports Center’s team is trying to make the best of it, and Johnson said he’s looking into ways the center can serve the community during this time.
“If our facility can be used for something, for the city of Blaine, for emergency personnel, ... we’re happy to do that,” Johnson said.