he winter sports season, twice delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, finally launched last week, albeit with most participants wearing masks, few spectators allowed and shorter seasons.

Mounds View season previews for all teams, along with reports some season openers, appear in this edition of the Press.

“My first and foremost concern is for our athletes’ safety,” said Chris Yauch, swimming coach. “Given that this season will present many challenges, I will be happy just to see the boys give their best effort.”

Winter sports are starting a month and a half late. They were cleared by the Minnesota State High School League to start practices Monday, Jan. 4, and competitions Thursday, Jan. 14, after Gov. Tim Walz eased up on restrictions imposed in November and December.

“These experiences are so important to students, and they have been anxiously waiting to get these winter seasons started,” MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens said. “By implementing these safety protocols recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and required by the Minnesota Department of Health, we have the best chance to provide safe seasons with reduced interruptions and also plan for full postseason experiences.”  

Required to wear masks in practice and games will be the hockey and basketball players, and the Alpine and Nordic skiers. Exceptions were made for wrestlers, gymnasts, swimmers and cheerleaders. In the fall, with most sports outside, masks were not required. Some volleyball players wore them voluntarily.

“We have to figure out how hard we can push the kids. It’s hard to tell when you can’t see their facial expressions,” said Dave Leiser, basketball coach, about wearing masks in practice. “Communication is a problem too, when kids need to talk to each other on the court and when we (coaches) yell instructions from the bench. I think it will mean more subbing, too (due to exhaustion).”

Wrestling being such a close contact sport, they must set practice and competition protocol, including intense daily cleaning, to ensure the safest environment possible.

Coach Dan Engebretson listed some of them: “We have to run two practices because of numbers allowed in the room. We are doing wellness checks and temps every day and recording. We gave out laundry bags and extra practice gear so kids can wear clean stuff every day and transport it every day. We have dedicated pods at practice so we can contact-trace if needed. We are meeting at site, so no buses.”

Masks are off only during each wrestler’s match. Then they go back on.

The seasons are shorter by 30%. Basketball teams, for instance, have a 17-game schedule rather than 26. There will still be two games per week, due to the shorter time frame to play. Whether section and state tournaments are held will depend on the COVID situation and the judgment of the governor and the health agencies. The Suburban East Conference policy on spectators is two per player. Concessions and entertainment are not allowed.

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