In an abbreviated season with limited crowds, the Winhawk football team faced off against Austin High School’s squad in October. Sadly, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ordered a temporary stop to youth sports until December 18, due to a surge of COVID cases filling hospitals across the state.

With sports on pause, WSHS students persevere




Winona Senior High School (WSHS) sophomore John Ringlien is trying to hone his craft by acting while in front of his computer. He is on a virtual meeting with other members of the WSHS Theatre Group.

“You have to look directly at the screen,” Ringlien shared. “If you look at the other side, your voice gets lost.”

Ringlien and his fellow Theatre Group members are practicing monologues and skits at their computers. Other WSHS students are staying in touch after their sports seasons ended abruptly. With the pause on in-person high school activities and sports due to the extreme COVID-19 case rate, students are taking advantage of opportunities to get involved in activities virtually and reflecting on the shortened fall sports season.

For WSHS seniors like Trent Langowski and Kaitlyn Clemons, this shortened season was their final opportunity to participate in a fall sport during high school.

“I was really thankful for everyone who helped make it happen ... I was just happy and excited when I found out we were able to play,” said Langowksi, who played football.

Some of the senior volleyball players had been playing the sport together since middle school, Clemons noted, so having this last season was meaningful.

Like sports, activities have been modified. The theater group at WSHS, which had been able to meet in person earlier this school year, is now gathering virtually.

“It’s like meeting up with friends after school,” Ringlien said.

The virtual meetings have helped with maintaining mental health and have provided a venue for self-expression, Ringlien shared. Group members are able to share their interests, as well as their ideas and other parts of their lives, like their pets and their rooms, he added.

Knowledge Bowl, an academic competition team, and National Honor Society (NHS), an academic honor society, are also meeting virtually. Knowledge Bowl team members will have virtual practices and competitions. NHS members are completing some service hours online. They may tutor virtually or assist with adult education classes via Zoom, for example.

Along with the value students have found overall in participating in sports and activities have come moments of both happiness and difficulty.

The theatre group is preparing monologues and skits now, and members hope to perform them next January.

“The main happy thing is knowing we get to do something rather than holding off an entire year ... It’s nice to know there’s something I can work on between everything,” Ringlien stated.

Volleyball players were preparing to play an away match when they found out Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) was moving to distance learning. The learning model shift meant the competition would likely be their last.

The varsity team came from behind to win, Clemons said, and while riding the bus back to Winona, team members were so excited that they sang.

“It was great to end the season on a high note,” Clemons stated.

Langowski experienced a moment of joy when one team WSHS was scheduled to play cancelled, but another agreed to compete the next day in a game that WSHS ended up winning, he shared.

In a more trying instance, someone involved with the theater group became ill with COVID-19, so group members made them a video to tell them thank you for their work and to express their hope that they would recover soon.

“The theater group really is a family,” WSHS Theatre Group Director and Winona Middle School (WMS) student services secretary Debbie Berhow said. “That’s the thing that’s most important, is that we support each other, and we truly care about each other … I think it’s just helped us all to realize you have other people out there that care for you and how you’re doing and what you’re doing.”

Some student athletes had to quarantine during the season, which presented challenges as remaining teammates worked to fill in the gaps, Clemons and Langowski said.

Clemons had to miss her first two games due to being in quarantine. Langowski had to view his last home game from afar while in quarantine.

“It was unfortunate, but it is something I’ll always remember,” Langowski said.

Head football coach and WSHS Physical and Health Education Teacher John Cassellius said having to tell student athletes they needed to leave practice because they were a close contact of someone who tested positive was a challenging part of the season.

“It’s different than when you have a kid hurt or injured,” Cassellius stated. “When they’re hurt or injured, you know they can’t play. With the pandemic, you have kids that theoretically feel great. Most students that were in close contact never had symptoms, which is a great thing that they’re feeling fine, but they can’t go to the game.”

There also was not an opportunity for football players and coaches to close out the season together in-person, he said.

Limits on the number of people who could be in a space at one time made team-building a bit trickier than usual this year, head volleyball coach and WMS Math Teacher Amber Mlynczak said.

“I try to coach the program to be a family or group of people that is always together, so [grades] 9-12 are considered a part of our program, and I try hard not to break it down into smaller teams ... That was hard because we had to limit the number of people in the gym, on a bus,” Mlynczak shared.

Technological limits on the number of people who are visible at one time during a virtual meeting can impact the atmosphere of the theatre group’s meetings, Ringelien said.

“There’s some people that end up maybe getting left out, which wouldn’t happen in real life, because you could see everyone in the room,” Ringlien noted.

As students athletes remain apart while WAPS is in distance learning, they are keeping in touch digitally, Langowski and Clemons said.

Cassellius said he hoped those on his team learned how to manage adversity as a result of playing this season.

“High school is a four-year deal, and you have to embrace it and learn how to deal with things that don’t necessarily go your way,” Cassellius shared. “I think that’s one important thing about athletics in general— how to work as a team and function when things don’t go right.”


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