The Blake School, prominent in high school athletics, has shut down its spring sports programs until May 1.
The move by Blake, which fields some of the metro area’s most successful sports programs, goes considerably further than the Minnesota State High School League’s actions. The league has halted practice through this Friday, in concert with closing Minnesota schools, and delayed games until April 6 at the earliest because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Blake Activities Director Nick Rathmann said he believed his school was the first in the state to extend its spring sports shutdown that far out. The decision affects practices and games, he said. The school’s campuses in Hopkins and Minneapolis will be closed during that period while it adopts remote learning.
“Anyone thinking they are going to play a full schedule this spring is holding onto a lot of hope,” Rathmann said Tuesday. “I think the goal should be to get what we can for the student-athletes in terms of a good experience without overburdening them.”
He said the baseball and softball teams could play five conference and two nonconference games each if games started May 1. That’s going on the assumption that sections will start on time.
“I wish the high school league would lay out contingency plans for happens to section or state tournaments based on different days we might get started,” Rathmann said. “Now is the time where we have time to discuss options.”
Leaders of various state coaches associations met for a regularly scheduled meeting last Friday, with high school league Executive Director Erich Martens in attendance. The meeting was conducted via GoToMeeting, a web-based meeting service.
At the meeting, Martens told those in attendance that the league was waiting on action by Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Health, said Aaron Berndt, Wayzata boys’ track and field coach and president of the sport’s coaches association
“It was a rational, wait-and-see response versus making a decision that doesn’t need to be made right now,” Berndt said. Martens took questions but few were asked, Berndt said.
“We’re still in limbo because the [MSHSL] can’t conduct activities with schools not being in session,” said Warroad’s Terry Sadler, a former president of the softball coaches association and the president of the Minnesota State High School Coaches Association. “We’ve run through a lot of what-if scenarios, but right now it’s just a lot of spit-balling.”
The meeting came one day after the league’s executive committee met via phone conference call at the league’s Brooklyn Center office. Spring sports were only briefly mentioned, with the bulk of the discussion aimed at the fallout of canceling winter tournaments the week before.
Berndt said indoor meets would have started this week. If a season is started, Berndt expects a two-week training period will be needed.
He said the True Team meet leaders have talked about moving the May event to an option summer event, held during the June-July period where coaches can work with kids. That’s provided the schools allow it.
Otherwise, Berndt said, “I’ve gotten the feeling that coaches don’t want to go the road of making other plans in hopes there will still be some kind of season.”
Even if the halt goes longer than originally planned, the softball coaches have experience in playing an abbreviated season, something they could draw upon this year, Sadler said.
“We don’t need to make rash decisions,” he said. “In 2011-12, southern Minnesota seemed to get blizzard after blizzard and in the north, we got heavy rains. We struggled to get a season in and we still played a postseason. We can recover quite quickly.”
As for possibly extending a season past its original end-dates, Sadler said that seems unlikely.
The leader of the State High School Baseball Coaches Association said he spoke on Tuesday with league associate director Bob Madison but that there were no new updates.
“There has been a lot of communication among ourselves (coaches),” said Craig Anderson, a former Pine Island coach who also has served on the league’s board of directors.
Anderson said “coaches would love the season to begin, but don’t want to put anybody in jeopardy. Safety of our athletes is our No. 1 concern”
Baseball teams were able to start arm conditioning programs March 7 and “most schools took advantage of that week,” Anderson said. All that was allowed during that week were gloves and balls, no bats.
If the season resumes, “we’ll try and implement a plan to get in as many games as we can,” Anderson said. “We’re all eager to get going.”
Contingency planning has been less intense in lacrosse, the latest-starting spring sport in Minnesota. Some coaches have talked about playing a conference-only schedule, said Ana Bowlsby, Benilde-St. Margaret’s girls’ lacrosse coach and, president of the lacrosse coaches association. Other ideas for coping with a shortened season including playing multiple games in one day, using a 40-minute running-time format.