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For three months, Callie Patraw has worked alone.

On her footwork in her basement, dribbling around cones, kicking a ball against a tall net at a soccer field near her house. Again. And again. And again.

“It’s not my favorite thing to do,” the rising Elk River senior said. “It gets lonely, and it gets really hard just motivating yourself every day.”

“It’s the distraction that I need. Soccer is kind of just my distraction from anything. If something would go bad at school, I’d still have soccer. Or something was bad at home, I’d have soccer.”
Callie Patraw, Elk River soccer player

So when she heard the news about two weeks ago that Gov. Tim Walz would allow youth sports, including her Under-17 BoReal FC team, to resume practices on Monday provided they follow the Minnesota Department of Health’s social-distancing guidelines during the coronavirus pandemic, she couldn’t quite believe it. No more video-chat training sessions or solo workouts. She would finally be back with her team.

Well, for the most part.

Patraw returned to a new-look practice Monday night. While it takes 11 players to make a full lineup, guidelines require teams to split into groups of 10 or fewer, including coaches, meaning her soccer team can have four groups at most on separate areas of the field. Those groups won’t mix, and there won’t be any physical contact within the group. That had Patraw expecting a lot of individual skill development, passing drills and the dreaded fitness work.

Sanitizing equipment, recommended mask-wearing and maintaining that six feet of space between people will look very different from the tackling drills and other one-on-one action the defender is used to on the field. Her coach, Brady Johnson, said with all the restrictions, these practices will be minimally effective compared with what his elite players have done all their lives.

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Johnson expects much more participation on his older, more competitive teams than the more recreation-focused ones because the girls he coaches, such as Patraw, are hoping for varsity roster spots and college scholarships. Training with no games in sight — minus the potential for some type of scrimmage eventually — is easier for them to understand.

Especially since the urge to practice isn’t just about improving.

“It’s been really hard, just being a kid, being a sophomore, junior in high school and having the majority of your childhood be revolving around just sports,” Johnson said. “And to kind of be taken away or out of that is super hard. So I think the players were really excited to get back. … Especially right now in Minnesota with everything that’s happened in the last week, it’s just super important for the kids to be able to just have an escape.”

But not everyone has that opportunity. While youth sports have the OK to practice, leagues and clubs around the state are still grappling with the logistics. For example, the Minnesota Youth Athletic Services’ (MYAS) Gopher State and North Star baseball league teams have been “in limbo,” as Elk River Baseball travel director Jason Herzog put it.

Several communities that participate in the league have already canceled their baseball seasons, MYAS program director Bobby Strickland said. Others need to know if games will go on so they can figure out refunds for players. Strickland said MYAS sent a petition to the governor’s office weeks ago, hoping for clearance to start play June 15. If MYAS doesn’t hear back by 4 p.m. Tuesday, or if the answer is no, the organization will cancel summer baseball and look toward planning a fall season, he said.

Of his about eight travel teams, Herzog said only one or two would take advantage of Monday’s ability to practice, even if that meant just one session before a potential full cancellation Tuesday.

“It is difficult, but I think everybody understands,” Herzog said. “I think everybody in our association just wants, at this point, an answer.”

Last week concerns about building readiness to hold practices and workouts factored into the Minnesota State High School League delaying the start of the summer workout period for high school coaches to work with athletes by two weeks, until June 15.

Allowing practicing — albeit in an altered fashion — was the first step to youth sports returning to usual business amid a global pandemic and now civil unrest in after the death of George Floyd. That small progress is what Patraw has been craving.

“It’s the distraction that I need,” she said. “Soccer is kind of just my distraction from anything. If something would go bad at school, I’d still have soccer. Or something was bad at home, I’d have soccer. But now I haven’t had that. So I’m just excited [to practice again].”