Jennifer Brooks
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The ballparks are closed and the beaches are closed and the Governor’s 2020 Fishing Opener got pushed back to 2021.

Minnesota has one competitive sport left: The 2020 Census.

And we are absolutely crushing Wisconsin.

By Friday afternoon, half of all Minnesotans had filled out their census forms, fulfilling their constitutional duty while kicking math in the face of the state with the second-highest census response rate, Wisconsin.

“I’ve been watching that battle every day,” said Assistant Regional Census Manager Ellisa Johnson, who oversees an eight-state region. “Yesterday, I saw that you guys were tied. That’s outstanding.”

Minnesota is in the lead, but late Friday, Washington County, Wis., edged out Carver County, Minn., by a tenth of a percentage point to claim the county-level title of Best in the Nation at filling out census forms.

In the middle of a pandemic, 63 million Americans have stepped up to be counted.

Each response is an affirmation: We’re here, our children are here, we count.

Their responses will decide which states gain or lose a seat in Congress, and which states gain or lose millions of dollars in funding for roads, schools and citizens in need.

If our response rate happens to leave Wisconsin in the dust, we’ll take our entertainment where we can get it this year.

This wasn’t how the 2020 census was supposed to work.

Across Minnesota, local communities formed Complete Count Committees and made careful plans. There were going to be lessons at school, sermons at church, and volunteers at libraries, small businesses and community centers, nudging their neighbors to fill out those forms.

Every Minnesotan missed by the census is a loss for the state.

If Minnesota’s population count drops, we could lose a seat in Congress. We could lose out on Medicaid funding, student loans, the school lunch program, federal highway funds, Head Start, food stamps, Section 8, rural development grants.

All these programs rely on census data to determine who gets what. An undercount means that what you get will be less than what you need.

So when the pandemic closed schools, libraries and businesses, communities found other, safer ways to plug the census.

In Minnesota’s south-westernmost county, Luverne City Clerk Jessica Mead is getting ready to dress her 10-year-old son Oliver in his hockey goalie uniform and stand with him on the street corner while he waves a “Honk if you’ve filled out the census” sign at anybody who drives by.

If we do end up crushing Wisconsin, it will be because of people like Mead and her colleagues on Rock County’s Complete Count Committee.

Rock County, Minn., has one of highest census response rates in the nation — 58% as of Friday. For a while, it had the highest rate in the state, although other Minnesota counties surged into the lead this week: Carver and Scott counties are over 60%; Anoka hit 59%, Hennepin is trailing with 56% and Ramsey is in 13th place out of 87 counties with 54.8%.

Cook County currently ranks 87th in the state with a census response rate of 10%, but it’s early days yet.

Residents in the city of Kerrick, Minn., have yet to return a single census form. At last count, 65 people lived in Kerrick, but there’s only one way to be sure.

Ten years ago, there were 4,745 people living in Luverne. That’s how many they counted, at least.

About 80% of Luverne’s residents turned in their census forms that year. Pretty good, but not good enough for a community that needed a population of 5,000 to qualify for more road and school funding.

Rock County has been working on its census outreach all year and now that the pandemic has blown up those plans, they’re reaching out where they can, from social media to street signs to a big bison statue in town getting fitted with a bison-sized cape and transformed into a census superhero.

“I’m competitive,” Mead said, “so this is really fueling that fire. It’s exciting to know that all the work that we’ve done over the last year is paying off. That makes me very happy.”

Luverne’s bison isn’t the only Minnesota monument getting a census makeover. If you’ve ever wondered how much material it would take to fit Mankato’s Jolly Green Giant statue with a cape, we’ll find out later this month. Ho ho ho … Census Giant.

Not all heroes wear capes. On Thursday, I personally got up from my couch, walked over to a stack of unopened mail, pulled out that letter from the U.S. Census Bureau and carried it over to my laptop.

Crushing Wisconsin took five minutes.

To out-count Wisconsin, visit 2020census.gov or call toll-free 844-330-2020.

jennifer.brooks@startribune.com 612-673-4008

Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks