by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Fall sports seasons for local high schools have been shortened and, in some cases, delayed. In addition, high school football and volleyball teams in Minnesota — after being initially delayed until spring — recently had competition seasons moved back to fall, and some spectators were allowed at indoor high school sporting events. Amid the changes, athletes and coaches are doing their best to follow health and safety protocols, which sometimes shift.
Winona Area Public Schools (WAP) sports teams had just begun practicing before students in grades seven through 12 shifted from starting the school year in a hybrid learning model to beginning classes with all distance learning — meaning athletics were postponed — due to a spike in cases in Winona County. Athletics then resumed when WAPS changed back to a hybrid learning model for secondary students in late September.
Currently, cross country teams are taking part in sectional competitions. Soccer teams recently finished their regular season and will begin sectional competition soon. The swim and dive team is preparing for Big Nine competition. Tennis teams are participating in sectional competition. Volleyball teams and football teams recently had their first competitions.
In this season, which has been shortened, volleyball teams may have two matches each week and play a total of 14 games. Football teams have one game a week and will play a total of six games this season.
State tournaments are not planned as of now to prevent potential exposure to COVID-19 resulting from traveling to other parts of the state, Winona Senior High School and Winona Middle School Activities Director Casey Indra stated. Sectional competition will still take place.
Health protocols are in place. Athletes’ temperatures are taken, and they are asked COVID screening questions.
On the sidelines of the district’s football field, there are dots marking where athletes should stand to maintain social distancing, and athletes will wear masks. According to Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) guidelines, athletes should be six feet apart when not playing. Volleyball players will wear masks when on the sidelines of the court as well.
Athletes come to practice or a competition through a specific door. The time spent in locker rooms is also minimized.
Athletes are broken up into groups for practices, additionally. Groups should not have more than 25 people each, including players and coaches, according to MDH guidelines.
Practices occur five times a week and start at 4 p.m., a bit later than in the past, to give athletes time to get to where they need to be after school lets out, whether they have been learning in-person or at home that day, Indra said.
A limited number of spectators are allowed at competitions. At outdoor events, either 250 people or 25 percent of the venue’s capacity, whichever is the smaller number, are allowed. Guidelines are the same for spectators at indoor competitions. Two spectators per athlete are allowed. Spectators or household groups should be six feet apart, according to MDH guidelines.
Indoor events, as well as some outdoor events, will be live streamed so people may watch them, Indra said.
He noted that the world is “ever-changing,” and guidelines for practices and competitions are being reviewed regularly.
In the Lewiston-Altura School District, as at WAPS, the cross country team’s regular season recently ended, and members are preparing for sectional competition. Soccer teams also recently completed their regular seasons and began playing post-season games. The volleyball and football teams have been practicing each weekday since their competition seasons, which had been moved to the spring, got moved back to the fall.
Football teams have one game a week, and six total games are allowed for their season. Volleyball teams are allowed 14 matches, with a maximum of two contests per week.
Soccer teams’ season was shortened. Cross country teams had eight meets, and each meet had a maximum of three teams in attendance. In the past, Lewiston-Altura High School Athletic and Activities Director Brian Menk explained, the number of teams was not limited.
At practices and games, coaches and athletes wear masks, with the exception of football team members not wearing masks while playing but when on the sidelines. Social distancing is also taking place, as is sanitation of equipment.
“I know … sports and activities in general create a unique set of challenges this year for schools,” Menk shared. “It definitely is positive I think for our students to be involved in those things. As long as we can do it safely, then we’ll continue to do it.”
Cotter Schools’ athletes are practicing about four days a week, President Judith Schaefer said, as soccer, cross country, tennis, football and volleyball take place. Competition schedules have been reduced, and teams have no more than two competitions per week.
Athletes wear masks when off the field. Coaches also wear masks. Athletes’ temperatures are checked by their coach when they arrive. Equipment is sanitized. Athletes are kept in groups.
Two spectators per athlete are allowed at events. Social distancing will be in place, and spectators will wear masks.
Sister Schaefer is grateful no positive cases have arisen through sports at this time, she said.
At Cochrane-Fountain City (C-FC) in Wisconsin, cross country and golf had started for the fall, and volleyball and football were about to begin. Then, athletics came to a halt when school was closed for two weeks due to positive cases at the high school level necessitating that students shift to complete distance learning.
After the two weeks of school being closed, athletics resumed in late September. The game schedule was shifted, with some games being cancelled and not rescheduled. “It’s been a very, very interesting year,” C-FC Athletic Director Lance Litchfield said.
The girls golf team recently finished its season, and the cross country team is nearing the completion of its competitions for the fall as well. The cross country and golf teams practiced five days a week as these sports were considered to be socially distanced, Litchfield said.
The volleyball and football teams practiced in cohorts because students are attending school in-person in cohorts, he shared. For instance, if a student attends school in-person on Mondays and Tuesdays, they practiced after school on those days as well.
The football teams have not yet competed due to county COVID guidelines, Litchfield noted. The volleyball teams have competed according to cohort days. For example, if a student attends school in-person on Thursdays and Fridays, they played in games on Thursdays after school.
At each competition, hand sanitizer is provided, and equipment is sanitized as it is used. If a volleyball goes out of bounds, for instance, it is sanitized before it is used again. Athletes’ chairs on the sidelines are spaced out as well.
Four spectators are allowed per athlete. The conference of which C-FC is a part agreed on the rule regarding four spectators being allowed per athlete, Litchfield explained. Athletes receive four tickets from their coach a few days before a game and may give them to whomever they choose. Spectators must have a ticket to enter a competition.
Concessions are not sold at competitions. All attendees, including athletes and officials, wear masks.
The one exception to the mask rule, Litchfield said, exists for cross country team members, who wear masks for the first 100 yards of their races and then are able to take their masks off until they complete the races, when they must put their masks back on.
Keep reading the Winona Post for more information about schools’ operations amid the pandemic.