Gov. Tim Walz ordered a four-week shutdown of youth and high school sports starting Saturday to help counter an accelerating increase in COVID-19 cases.
Walz issued the order Wednesday as part of new restrictions to curb what he called “uncontrolled community spread” of the virus and reduce pressure on hospital bed capacity and health care staffing.
It’s the most dramatic step the governor taken to curb sports activity during the pandemic since high school sports were shut down from mid-March through the spring sports season.
The four-week period, which he described as a pause, puts an end to the high school football section playoffs, which had been scheduled to conclude on Nov. 28, and the volleyball season, set to end Dec. 12. It also delays the start of most winter sports and sidelines the already-started dance team season.
“It’s not easy and it’s not fair but it’s a sacrifice we need to make,” Walz said.
As word emerged earlier in the day that a youth sports pause was imminent, at least four metro-area high school football games were rescheduled from Saturday to Friday and coaches at other schools began exploring similar changes.
In Class 5A, Section 6, the playoffs were reconfigured to pit the top two seeds, No. 1 Rogers and No. 2 Elk River, against each other in a de facto section championship game Friday night. Both had been scheduled to play semifinal games Saturday. Their opponents, Monticello and Armstrong, will face off Friday in a third place game.
“We’d actually been working on this since we heard that outdoor sports were likely to be paused,” Elk River coach Steve Hamilton said. “It will kind of put a cap on the season.”
In Class 4A, Section 5, Orono and Holy Angels also will play a section championship game at 5 p.m. Friday, according to a tweet from an Orono football booster club account. In the same section, Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Mound Westonka will play Friday as well, according to a Red Knights football Twitter account.
Officials at five other metro schools said discussions have been started in anticipation of possibly not being able to play Saturday.
Coach Jared Essler at St. Michael-Albertville said his team would play Friday to beat deadline as needed. “Seems backward that the governor might be saying pause and we are saying fast forward but that is what our kids and parents want,” Essler said before Walz’s announcement.
Edina athletic director Troy Stein said the Hornets were discussing Friday as an option.
Champlin Park is exploring a 5 p.m. Friday game but coach Nick Keenan called it “foolish. I’m happy to be playing but player safety is getting thrown out the window. It’s not good physically for these kids to play a game Tuesday and then Friday.”
Stillwater coach Beau LaBore said he hoped to move the Ponies’ Class 6A playoff game against Centennial up to Friday pending a decision on a Minnesota State High School League rule that mandates three days between football games. “We’re checking on that, but we’re figuring that they’re advocating for closure and we want to get one more game in,” he said.
The scramble to schedule games extends to volleyball, which still has a week left in its regular season before two weeks of section play. One section was reportedly considering section matches on Thursday and Friday, according to discussions in a Minnesota State High School League “return to participation” task force meeting.
League executive director Erich Martens said in the meeting that he recognizes “the importance of closure to a season” and said league “is advocating for that.”
Pausing youth sports has implications for tens of thousands of athletes across the state, including those finishing fall seasons and starting winter activities.
Among winter sports, dance team began practice on Nov. 9. Other sports, including boys’ hockey and boys’ basketball, are set to begin Monday, with other girls and boys’ sports to follow.