MSHSL calls audible, will allow prep football, volleyball in fall

Sports given the green light to play a shortened fall season.

Proctor quarterback Evan Checkilski, left, flips the ball to Trevor Lindberg at practice in Proctor Monday afternoon, Sept. 21. (Jed Carlson /

Friday Night Lights will be turned on again this fall.

The Minnesota State High School League board of directors agreed to the return of a scaled-back football season at a special virtual meeting Monday.

The board voted 15-3 to begin practice Sept. 28, with the first of a six-week regular season commencing the weekend of Oct. 9-10 and continuing through the weekend of Nov. 13-14. Postseason play will be determined at the board’s regularly scheduled Oct. 1 meeting, though it will not last beyond Thanksgiving weekend. Section tournaments involving only four teams, and no state tournament, is the likely end result.

The board also voted 14-4 to allow volleyball to be played during its traditional fall season, beginning with practice Sept. 28 and matches starting Oct. 8. The season will last 11 weeks with a maximum of 14 dual matches and no regular-season tournaments. Postseason play will last two weeks, beginning the week of Nov. 30.

Those decisions reversed board policies made Aug. 4 to move those sports to the spring due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.


At that same August meeting, competitions for other fall sports such as boys and girls soccer and cross country and girls tennis and swimming were allowed to take place, albeit with a limited regular season and no defined postseason. The MSHSL board voted Monday to hold section tournaments in all those sports, an action previously considered unlikely.

“I think it’s the best of a bad situation; I thought they did a great job,” Hermantown football coach Mike Zagelmeyer said of the MSHSL. “Obviously, we’re very excited to play. I was hoping we could play that first game Oct. 2, but all things considered this is a very wise move.”

Many teams like Hermantown already were taking advantage of the 12 “offseason” football practices the MSHSL was allowing. Those began a week ago Monday.

By waiting an extra week to begin, teams that were not using optional practices can get caught up and it allows more time for student-athletes to sign the necessary COVID-19 waiver forms.

“I understand the rationale since it’s erring on the side of safety,” Zagelmeyer said. “I am very happy with what happened today.”

The return-to-play movement evolved quickly, generating enough steam at a Twin Cities-area workshop last Tuesday that MSHSL board of directors president Blaine Novak called for a special session. A group called Let Them Play sought a quick return to the fields and courts.

“There was a lot of momentum from the Let Them Play group, so I wasn’t surprised by the decision,” Duluth Denfeld coach Erik Lofald said via text message. “We used last week’s (optional practices) to prepare for the possibility of a return to play, so we feel we can get the team ready for October games.”

Surveys were emailed to member schools about their desire. Out of 394 schools that responded, 80% wanted football and 76% wanted volleyball in the fall, according to the MSHSL’s John Millea.


“The decisions by our board of directors both provide opportunities for many student-athletes and also require everyone’s responsible actions in keeping students and communities safe,” MSHSL Executive Director Erich Martens, who declined to provide the board with an opinion during the meeting, said in a news release. “It will be critical that our schools do their very best to enact protocols that maximize the safety of our students, coaches and officials.

“The amount of information that is considered, as well as the amount of discussion that takes place, is indicative of the challenges that each decision provides. We know that our activities support the mental health and physical well-being of our students and we hope that the initiation of these fall interscholastic seasons will provide outstanding and safe opportunities for our students.”

In terms of the safety of returning to play football and volleyball in the fall, the board heard from Dr. Bill Roberts, the chair of the league’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, a past president of the American College of Sports Medicine and a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota.

"The challenge is to find an acceptable risk strategy somewhere between complete self-isolation and an unsafe health environment for players and staff,” Roberts said. “There is a tipping point for safe activity; determining which side of that continuum football and volleyball will fall without data will be difficult."

Under current Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 regulations, as with other indoor events, no spectators would be allowed at volleyball matches and the players would be required to wear masks. Rules for outdoor events limit attendance to 250.

Despite the limitations, Northland football coaches contacted Monday were in favor of the move since a spring season was fraught with potential hiccups.

“It’s better than nothing,” Proctor coach Derek Parendo said. “I had reservations of how we were ever going to have a northern Minnesota ‘spring’ season. Spring around here is a relative term. I think this is better than a spring season.

“We don’t get a state tournament, which is on the negative side, but I don’t know if we would have had that in the spring, either. At this point, I would rather be playing in the fall than in the spring. Hopefully we can get out and save what’s left of the season.”


Duluth East coach Joe Hietala concurred.

“I’m excited that we get to play football this fall, however that turned out,” he said. “I think six regular-season games was as much as we could have hoped for. As far as playoffs, I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I would have been surprised if we could’ve gotten six games in in the spring, I think that was a stretch.”

Novak, the MSHSL board president from New York Mills, acknowledged that as one of the reasons for the change.

“Coming into the meeting, we knew that every decision we make affects every other decision for the rest of the calendar year,” Novak said. “Today’s decision, based on what we currently know and with the unknowns of what spring will bring, is based on the belief that playing now provides us the best opportunity to play a football and volleyball season.”

The board will take up discussion of winter activities at its regularly scheduled Oct. 1 meeting.

As for fall coaches, it’s a return to as normal as it gets in 2020.

Teams like Proctor, which initially did not allow optional fall practices, were back out on the field Monday.

“My life went from boring to crazy in a matter of hours,” Parendo said.


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