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MSHSL moves football, volleyball to new ‘4th’ season

MOVING TO MARCH — Fairmont quarterback Zach Jorgensen (9) breaks free from a St. Peter defender during regular-season high school football action last fall in St. Peter. Jorgensen, his Cardinal teammates and every football player in the state of Minnesota will kick off their season in mid-March instead of the usual Friday night before Labor Day during the 2020-21 school year. (Photo by Greg Abel/Sentinel Archives)

FAIRMONT — The four-month waiting game is finally over.

Tuesday’s anxiously anticipated Minnesota State High School League board meeting put an end to a glut of social media speculations and answered a myriad of legitimate questions revolving around the fall sports seasons.

The MSHSL cleared soccer, girls tennis, cross country and girls swimming/ diving to get underway this fall, but with limitations due to health concerns over COVID-19.

Practices will be allowed to start on Monday, Aug. 17, with a 20% shorter season in weeks and a 30% reduction in games. Each sport also will be limited to a maximum of two competitions per week.

Cross country competitions cannot exceed three teams, while girls tennis and swimming/diving can hold just dual meets.

Details concerning the above fall sports postseasons will be determined at a later date, according to the board of directors meeting synopsis.

Meanwhile, football and volleyball have been moved to a new “fourth season” that runs from March 21 through May 15 in 2021. As of Tuesday, Minnesota became the ninth state to delay the start of the prep football season.

The board voted to hold six regular-season football games, down from its traditional eight, with no scrimmages allowed. A postseason plan also will be determined at a later date.

Volleyball also will consist of a reduced season, with no invitationals being played during the two-month mini-campaign.

The traditional ‘spring’ sports of track & field, baseball, softball, golf, boys tennis and clay target will be played from May 15 through July 15 in 2021.

“I have to give credit to the high school league for not cancelling any sports and thinking outside the box in making adjustments to the seasons,” said Fairmont High School athletic director and head football coach Mat Mahoney. “There weren’t any easy decisions, even after numerous discussions on the various options.

“Everyone really needs to take a step back and realize that this year’s seniors will potentially get a chance to play all of their sports this school year. That was not the case this past spring.”

Blue Earth Area High School activities director Rob Norman agreed with Mahoney’s analysis of the MSHSL board meeting’s deliberations.

“I think we might have faced a scenario where we tried to start the football season this fall and then had to shut it down due to positive results for the coronavirus,” said Norman. “That could have proven more detrimental than moving it (football) to the spring. Hopefully, we’ll know more about the virus at that time (March 2021). We just have to stay optimistic about getting through this (pandemic).

“When you have small college football conferences across the nation moving games to the spring, I’m sure that also influenced the high school league’s decision.”

Norman, Mahoney and the other 11 athletic/activities directors of the Big South Conference will hold a meeting today and begin the first step of fine-tuning every facet in the process of following the state’s safety protocols for the upcoming fall activities.

“We’ll have to work in conjunction with state-mandated guidelines already in place, and take this time to travel a different avenue to adjust our reduced schedules to be the most efficient,” said Mahoney. “We’ll have to work out all the little details pertaining to practices, spectators and transportation so that our students and coaches stay safe.

“Most people like routine and don’t care much for change, but it’s a different world we’re living in now. We must adjust and find a way to deal with every issue.”

Norman knows that time will be of the essence as he and his fellow athletic/activities directors quickly and effectively adjust the upcoming fall schedules before the first athletic events take to the field of play later this month.

“We’ll have almost three weeks to get the schedules realigned, so that time frame should hopefully give us enough time to work out all the details,” said Norman.

Now, only time will tell if the league’s decisions will work out for the best.

“There’s never been a time like this in our lives and we can’t go back to a year ago and act like the world hasn’t changed,” said Mahoney. “We must find ways to muster through and be thankful we have the chance to play again.”

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