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The Forest Lake football team, shown in a scrimmage against St. Francis last week, saw its season move from this fall to next spring. Volleyball also will by played from mid-March until May, with the traditional spring sports playing after those seasons end.

MSHSL votes football, volleyball move to “spring” as traditional spring sports will play in summer of 2021

The Minnesota State High School League voted Tuesday to alter sports for this fall to address concerns around COVID-19. 

The most significant changes will move volleyball and football to the spring while the rest of the fall sports will be significantly modified. The MSHSL approved a four-season plan for 2020-21 which allows fall and winter schedules to go on as normal.

Spring season will run mid-March to mid-May and will feature football and volleyball. That will be followed by a summer season from May through early July that will include the traditional “spring” sports of lacrosse, track, golf, softball, and baseball.

Forest Lake football coach Sam Ferraro said the announcement produced a variety of different emotions.

“First of all, I’m grateful that we get to have a football season,” he said. “I also feel a little disappointment, because we all have worked so hard to prepare for a season in the fall. I know it was a tough situation, and it’s easy to think about the negatives.  But we’re going to have a positive attitude: This will give us a few more months to get bigger, faster, stronger and better for when we get a chance to play football.”

The rest of the fall sports — girls tennis, girls swimming and diving, boys and girls cross-country, and boys and girls soccer — will begin as planned on Aug. 17, but those sports will deal with a 30 percent reduction in contests and a 20 percent reduction in the length of the season. Specifically for tennis and cross-country, teams are allowed to take part in events with up to three teams participating. For swimming and diving, only one other team is allowed to compete.

“One of our biggest challenges will be to deal with the changing schedule,” said North Lakes Academy activities director Jeff Beimert. “For example, in cross country most of the meets traditionally are large invitationals, so how will that work? We knew it was going to be a year that was different, and I knew it was going to be a chaotic couple of weeks leading up to the start of the season.”

Overall, the MSHSL suggests scheduling teams from only the same conference or general area. But Lakes International Language Academy activities director Jenni Muras said that only scratches the surface of the decisions that await her and other athletics directors.

“We expect we will get some guidance on schedules, but we’re also working on details such as transportation concerns,” she said. “We also need to determine if fans can come to games, and how many, and a number of other details. We want to provide the best possible program that keeps everyone safe. It’s like working on a puzzle, and we’ll piece things together and figure it out.”

The decision to move football and volleyball from the fall to “spring” came at the end of considerable discussion by the Board of Directors, who were torn between multiple objectives.

The board voted down an initial motion to move volleyball to the spring after a 9-9 vote led to a lack of a majority, and therefore failed. A second motion, which kept the original Aug. 17 start date, was defeated, which prompted a third motion to move volleyball to the mid-March to mid-May season, and that motion passed.

Football followed a similar path, with multiple motions including the original Aug. 17 start date. Ultimately, a motion to move to the spring passed by a 13-5 margin.

The board also decided to allow volleyball and football programs to practice this fall in a limited capacity. The “spring” sports also will be allowed to practice in the fall, which opened the door to scheduling conflicts with fall sports.

COVID-19 concerns led the MSHSL to cancel the boys and girls state basketball tournament on March 13 as well as delaying the start of the spring sports season. When Minnesota governor Tim Walz announced April 23 that schools around the state would not reopen for the rest of the school year, the MSHSL decided to cancel all spring sports.

“I really feel sorry for everyone involved in the spring sports,” Ferraro said. “It was hard to see the spring sports canceled last season, and it would be terrible if the spring sports were affected for two years in a row. Having fall practices for football at the same time as a lot of the spring sports really means all of the coaches involved are going to have to communicate with one another so we can make the best possible decisions for our players and for our programs.”

The MSHSL Board of Directors did not discus moving spring sports to the fall. It also did not answer questions such as post-season state tournament, including when and where such a tournament might be played and if the contests would take place with or without fans.

- John Wagner of the Forest Lake Times contributed to this story.

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