Prep sports: MSHSL cancels spring activities

Minnesota State High School League pulls plug on prep sports seasons shortly after Gov. Tim Walz closed schools through end of the school year

Esko baseball player James LeGarde learned Friday that the Minnesota State High School League called off the spring sports season. (News Tribune file photo)

James LeGarde’s deja vu experience was more expected this time but no less painful.

The Esko senior and his basketball teammates were preparing for a section final when the Minnesota State High School League called off the winter sports season last month.

Earlier today, to no one’s surprise, LeGarde and his baseball teammates received word that the MSHSL pulled the plug on the spring season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The MSHSL announcement came shortly after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's decision to keep all schools closed through the end of the school year.

“For basketball, that was the worst-case scenario, happening on the day of the championship. Everyone was pissed off,” LeGarde said. “We’ve had time to take (spring cancellations) in and to prepare more. But it still hurts a ton.”

LeGarde is one of the Northland’s top baseball players, having batted .535 with 38 hits and 36 RBIs in 2019.


Esko lost to Duluth Marshall in the Section 7AA title game a year ago. The Hilltoppers went on to capture their first Class AA state title.

That was the Eskomos’ goal this time around. Now, like every other spring sport, baseball is sidelined for the season.

“I was really looking forward to it,” LeGarde said of the season. “I thought we had a great chance at a state championship. I was super excited about our group.”

LeGarde usually plays catcher but fills in wherever needed, including at pitcher. He said he was throwing the ball every day with his father, Denny, and hitting in the cage “just to be ready in case the season happened, and even if it didn’t, to be prepared for summer ball.”

Now with the prep season being canceled and the American Legion summer season up in the air, LeGarde is reconsidering his decision to quit baseball. He turned down an offer from Minnesota Duluth to play baseball because he originally planned on attending the University of Minnesota to focus solely on schoolwork. Now, LeGarde has been fielding contacts from NCAA Division III coaches and said he could change his mind.

No repeats in Duluth

Joe Wicklund coached Marshall to the state title, ending a city drought that had extended all the way back to 1950.

But Wicklund, the communications manager for the city of Hermantown, was unable to fit his coaching duties at Marshall around his new job and had to step down.

Then the Duluth Denfeld head coaching position opened up and that fit in better for Wicklund, who was hired to guide the defending Section 7AAA champion Hunters.


The irony is not lost on Wicklund.

“I don’t get a chance to defend a state championship because I’m at a different school and I don’t get a chance to try to see if Denfeld can go back (to the state tournament) two years in a row,” Wicklund said. “But instead I think about the great athletes. James LeGarde is a perfect example. Esko had a really good chance of going to state in basketball and baseball, and he’s a senior. That’s a tough, tough pill to swallow.”

Though he will have to wait until 2021 to coach his new team, Wicklund understands the current national plight amid the coronavirus and how coaches must step up to help their players off the field.

“It’s a completely unprecedented situation,” he said. “You try and guide the young people that you are coaching the same way you would when you are guiding them through the more enjoyable situations that include high school baseball.”

Despite the obvious blow to his seniors, Wicklund expects the players to regroup and keep perspective.

“It’s a big letdown, but I also think that it’s not a surprise and we have a really good understanding why the folks in charge are making these choices,” Wicklund said. “The shock that basketball players, who were in the middle of their state tournament experience, faced is going to be quite a bit different.”

Senior perspective

Senior Charlie Kleinschmidt is the lone starter back from that Marshall title team.

A left fielder last season and a third baseman-pitcher this year, Kleinschmidt was hoping to teach the younger players what was needed for his team to return to the state tournament.


“I wanted to carry on the tradition at Marshall School,” Kleinschmidt said. “We had those eight seniors graduate, and I was closer with them than most of the players my grade. I would have liked to pass this tradition on to younger classmates.”

Like other spring sports athletes, Kleinschmidt feels the pain of not being able to complete his senior campaign. However, the future West Point cadet has analyzed the situation and understands there are more important things than high school athletics.

“With this quarantine thing, you have a lot of time to think things over,” Kleinschmidt said. “With the situation that’s going on in the world, it really sucks to be a senior and be in this position. In a thousand years I would never think this is how my senior year would end. But considering other things that are going on in the world at this time, this pales in comparison.”

Kleinschmidt, who was nominated to West Point by Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Pete Stauber, had been staying in good shape pending his summer appointment to the United States Military Academy in New York.

He has been hitting off a tee and pitching into a tarp that his parents put up in the family’s garage in order to stay fresh.

“If we had had a season and we needed to be in condition in the first few days, I think I would be very prepared for that,” he said.

Thursday's announcement put an end to any hopes of that.


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