football scrimmage

The Forest Lake football team is shown scrimmaging St. Francis in late July. On Monday, Sept. 21, the MSHSL reversed its August ruling and set up an abbreviated football and volleyball season, with practices starting on Monday, Sept. 28, and the first games scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 8 for volleyball and Friday, Oct. 9 for football.

MSHSL also announces section tourneys for fall sports

Forest Lake football coach Sam Ferraro has used the hashtag #SeasonOfChange in his interactions with his players. His goal with that hashtag is to indicate the desire to change the culture of the program, and thereby improve the team’s win total.

On Monday, Sept. 21, that hashtag took on a second meaning when that morning the Minnesota State High School League Board of Directors reversed an earlier decision to move the traditional fall sports of football and volleyball to a spring schedule. The board voted to return football to a six-game fall schedule that will allow the first games to be played on Friday, Oct. 9, while the volleyball season will allow teams to hold their first matches on Thursday, Oct. 8.

“I’m excited for our kids, because they have worked so hard to prepare for this season,” Ferraro said when asked about the change. “Seeing how well things are going in other states, I’m glad they came to the conclusion to return to the fall.”

On Aug. 4 the MSHSL moved volleyball and football to the spring in response to concerns over the spread of COVID-19, while the rest of the fall sports were significantly modified in the areas of competition. The schedules for football and volleyball season were expected to run from mid-March to mid-May, followed by a summer season from May through early July that would include the traditional “spring” sports of lacrosse, track, golf, softball, and baseball.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, Minnesota was one of 19 states that decided to not play football in the fall. Illinois is the only other nearby state that is not competing in the fall, although Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan modified their football season to some degree.

A large majority of Minnesota high schools wanted that August decision to be reversed. A MSHSL survey of 394 schools around the state showed that 80% wanted football to return to the fall, while 76% preferred volleyball be played in the fall.

However, medical guidance offered by Dr. William Roberts, a physician who is a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, offered an opposite opinion. When asked about mitigating factors that would make volleyball and football safer now than they were considered to be in August, he sounded a warning.

“Masking might be helpful, but I don’t see it as a tenable solution for athletes who are competing,” Roberts said during the board meeting. “Being outdoors is a huge advantage, especially if it’s windy and the air is circulating.”

Yet Roberts wasn’t convinced playing football or volleyball is safe.

“I’m just not sure how we will be able to safely put people who are breathing hard face-to-face, as we have in football. And volleyball players are in pretty close proximity at the net, so I don’t know how that will be accomplished, either.”

That did not stop the MSHSL board from deciding to switch the volleyball season after it was presented with two options from the volleyball committee. The first was for a fall season that would allow two weeks of preseason practice to begin on Monday, Sept. 28, followed by an 11-week season that allows 14 dual competitions, with the first day of competition allowed on Oct. 8.

The second was for a spring season that would allow one week of preseason practice starting on Feb. 15, followed by an 11-week season that allows 14 competitions.

After more than 30 minutes of discussion, the motion to return volleyball to the fall passed in a 14-4 vote.

“I saw a couple of our volleyball players in the hall after the vote, and when we shared the news that the season is on for the fall, they were really excited,” Forest Lake volleyball coach Sherri Alm said. “I think it’s really awesome for our kids, because they really wanted to play in the fall.”

The board then addressed the football season, and while the discussion lasted more than an hour, most of that time was spent trying to determine how a potential postseason could be wedged into a scheduling window that is expected to close on Nov. 28.

The board voted 15-3 in favor of a proposal in which practices will start on Monday, Sept. 28, with the first games played on Friday, Oct. 9. The proposal is for a six-game regular season with a two-week postseason in a format still to be determined.

While these decisions mean Forest Lake athletic director Mike Hennen’s to-do list now is filled with items such as preparing schedules, finding buses for road games and officials for home contests, and generally preparing for a season that starts in a week, he’s excited for the opportunity.

“We’ve already got 98% of our student-athletes registered with their physicals and their waivers,” Hennen said. “I’m just happy that we will have football and volleyball back in action.”

Hennen also said he hopes the move of those two sports will allow the MSHSL to return the spring sports to a more traditional season.

“Now that football and volleyball seasons are ‘home,’ I hope we’re able to put our spring sports back in their home,” he said. “All of those sports lost an entire year of competition last spring, and I’m happy that we now have a chance to have those sports compete in a more normal time of the year.”

Attendance for home contests for both sports will follow guidelines already in place for similar sports. In the case of football, attendance will be capped at 250 spectators, as it is for soccer; volleyball games will allow only essential personnel into the arena, as is the case with girls swimming, another sport that competes in an indoor venue.

The MSHSL is expected to consider the status of the traditional spring sports, as well as the status of those sports which compete in the winter sports season, at its meeting on Thursday, Oct. 1.

Section tourneys for fall sports set

The MSHSL Board of Directors announced section tournament plans for the fall sports of boys and girls cross-country, boys and girls soccer, girls swimming and girls tennis.

The boys and girls soccer tournaments will look similar to years past, with a two-week postseason. If there are more than eight teams in a section, the “play-in” games would take place starting Oct. 12-13, with quarterfinals on Oct. 14-17. The semifinals and finals would be played the following week.

While the girls tennis section tournament will be very similar to seasons past, the MSHSL decided to not offer an individual state tournament. The team tournament would be played on different days starting Oct. 5, with the higher-seeded team serving as the home team.

The girls swimming section tournament will be held over two days starting Oct. 19, with a maximum of four teams competing together at a particular site. Since most sections have more than four teams, results from different sites would be collected and compared to determine section winners.

Teams would be limited to four entries per event, with only three coaches, no managers and only competitors allowed on the pool deck.

Cross-country also will use a format where a maximum of four teams will compete against one another at a particular site on Oct. 12. To allow four teams to compete together, teams would be limited to six competitors, which is down one from the traditional seven competitors.

Boys and girls cross-country teams would be allowed to compete on the same course on the same day, but not at the same time.

The MSHSL did not make any announcement regarding the possibility of a state tournament for any sport. The board did note concerns over bringing large numbers of athletes from around the state together for such an event, as well as the difficulty of securing a facility that could handle the numbers of participants needed to run such an event.

Forest Lake football schedule

Oct. 9 at Tartan

Oct. 16 vs. Coon Rapids

Oct. 23 at Hopkins

Oct. 30 vs. Park Center

Nov. 6 at Park

Nov. 11 vs. Irondale

Dates are subject to change

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