There is a picture Bryan Guse keeps in his office of a baseball game on a sunny day last summer. Bryan’s son Wilson is rounding third on his way home after the first over-the-fence homer of his life. He and his dad, who is coaching third, are about to bump fists.
“Looking at this just bums me out with the current situation,” Guse said.
Guse grew up in New Brighton playing baseball. He played in the high school state tournament for Irondale. He played catcher for John Anderson with the Gophers and was the team’s Player of the Year in 1997. He is a husband, father, banker — and coach.
He has two sons. Wilson, 12, is named after Dan Wilson, the former Gophers catcher. Nolan, 11, was named after Nolan Ryan. Both play baseball, like their dad, who coaches — or, more accurately, is scheduled to coach — Ryan’s U12 team. Daughter Adalyn, 6, is into hockey and gymnastics.
None of the children is doing much of anything, sports-wise, these days. Like everyone else, their lives have been on hold since the coronavirus pandemic forced people to retreat to their homes.
How many of Minnesota’s young athletes have been affected by the shutdown of sports at all levels? An exact accounting is difficult, but surveying sports associations in the state shows it’s already impacted well beyond 10,000 kids. That number would grow dramatically if the shutdown lasts into the summer.
“March, April, May, June, that’s when we gain our revenue for the year. We’re losing almost all our revenue for that.”
Guse feels for his kids, of course. But he feels for everyone, every kid, who is unable to play organized sports and potentially looking at a summer that might be devoid of the game they love. Looking across all level of sport, he summed it up simply: “It’s awful.”
That pain is discussed often in terms of pro and college sports. The loss of must-watch television, billion-dollar industries frozen. Will the Twins play? Will the Wild and Timberwolves be able to return to action? Will this crisis bleed toward the fall and football?
But in many Minnesota homes, the focus is on youth players of all abilities and ages who might have lost an ending for a winter sport and certainly have seen a false start to a spring sport.
“This is a great sports town,” said Dawson Blanck. He’s the executive director at Minnesota Youth Athletic Services. Organized in 1991, the MYAS is Minnesota’s largest multisport organization focused solely on youth athletics. More than 150,000 kids participate in programs annually.
Blanck said his organization touches about 80% of youth baseball players and 65 to 70% of youth basketball players in the state. The MYAS is also involved in swimming, wrestling and football, and working with local groups on scheduling, officiating and fundraising.
One big swimming event already has been canceled. The annual, massive Grade State boys’ basketball tournament set for March 14-15 was called off, too. That end-of-season tournament involves more than 870 teams at 22 locations.
Those events allow the local booster groups to take in admissions and concessions revenue; MYAS takes entry fees. It is a big fundraiser for both sides.
“All these associations, trying to provide for their groups and communities, that’s up in smoke,” Blanck said. “This is our big revenue source.”
Also suspended: the Rising Stars challenge, an all-star-styled event for boys and girls, and the recreational state championship. That’s a total of about 1,200 teams being hit and a big chunk of the association’s budget being lost.
Blanck said in the 2016-17 fiscal year, MYAS held 306 events, hosted by 184 associations or booster programs, and it all generated about $2.8 million for those groups. For his organization?
“We make hay while the sun shines,” Blanck said. “March, April, May, June, that’s when we gain our revenue for the year. We’re losing almost all our revenue for that.”
Worried about what’s to come
Dan Pfeffer is commissioner at Minnesota Softball, the organization responsible for registering about 95% of the summer’s fast-pitch girls’ teams — about 25,000 athletes ages 6 to 18. Last summer, it had 1,300 teams play in its state tournaments in the summer and fall.
Those events haven’t been hit, yet. They are more than a month away, with the first leagues and tournaments scheduled for early May.
“We’re being patient, hoping for good news,” Pfeffer said. “Hoping for the curve to bend.”
But Minnesota Softball is busy developing contingency plans should things get worse. As it is, most of its member organizations haven’t even held tryouts yet.
Glen Andresen executive director of Minnesota Hockey, which was hit hard. The group runs youth state tournaments for boys and girls. With all the classifications, that means about 14 tournaments this spring were canceled because of the coronavirus. That’s 14 tournaments, eight teams in each, likely more than 1,600 kids.
“Each tournament is at a different site throughout the state,” Andresen said. “So we have associations that step up to host. They do rely on those tournaments to help their youth associations. It’s a big fundraiser for them.”
Minnesota Hockey, which has a membership just shy of 58,000 athletes, also sponsors spring high-performance festivals, for top players who come together in their districts to make teams and play in events in April and May. Those could be lost, too.
“Everything is in a state of flux,” Andresen said. “We’re trying to make decisions as we get closer.”
The Minnesota Youth Soccer Association numbers about 48,500 athletes ranging from very young through high school age. The MYSA runs some state leagues, some premier leagues as well as competition at lower levels and recreational leagues throughout the state. The association holds its own state championships after the summer and fall seasons.
Practices and indoor games for club soccer teams have been canceled. Most of the tryouts for this year’s teams were held late last summer. League play and some tournaments are scheduled to start in early May. The association hopes to have a determination on whether that schedule will change — and whether games have to be postponed or canceled — by early April.
“We have conversations every day,” said Matthew Madeira, the organization’s executive director. “Right now, we just don’t know.”
To Guse, apart from the pain of losing scheduled games, perhaps losing seasons, the hardest thing to consider is the impact that loss would have on players’ development.
“If we lose the season, how do you replicate that?” he said.
For example: When kids reach 12, baseball changes. It is the first year players can lead off of bases. Pitchers learn how to hold runners on, pitch from the stretch. At that age, players’ skill levels develop dramatically.
It’s an important time. Kids learn to play different positions. Guse likes his kids to learn several positions. Both Wilson and Nolan play catcher — like their dad — as well as infield and outfield.
The MYAS is hoping seasons can begin in mid-May. But that could change. Right now everybody is sitting and waiting, while facilities rented for preseason practice — such as the National Sports Center in Blaine — go unused. Guse isn’t just a coach; he’s treasurer of the Blaine association. He knows a lot of that money will be lost.
He said his kids don’t really realize what might be lost.
“I try to communicate with them,” he said. “I say, ‘Hey, we’ll take it one day at a time. We’ll see what happens.’ We’re pausing right now, hoping something can be salvaged.”