In the Eye of the COVID Storm

When the COVID19 pandemic hit the United States in full force – nearly everything was affected. When ‘everything’ included high school sports, State High School League media specialist John Millea became the public’s on-line window into the High School League’s every significant decision. The outbreak had the MSHL and Millea caught in the middle of a COVID storm.

March 11th was a day no one in athletics will forget.

“I will remember that forever,” Millea said. “The girls’ basketball tournament was going on, and on day one of the tournament, we started hearing rumblings that an NBA player had tested positive. I don’t remember thinking much of it – it is a Utah Jazz player- how is that going to affect us? That night, I got home, and I started seeing the NBA got shut down, and we started to see all these leagues get shut down. On day two of the girls’ tournament, I didn’t watch any basketball. I was in our tournament headquarters room at Williams Arena. We were on conference calls with the office, we were watching the news, and by the end of day two, the decision was made that we were going to keep the season going, but each team will get 100 fans because we didn’t know what COVID was. By Friday morning, the plug had been pulled. The girls’ tournament had been canceled. The boys’ basketball section tournament games that had not been played were not going to be played. That was like an earthquake. We had never seen anything like this. Not long after that, the spring season was canceled.”

Since that day, most high school sports fans have been hanging on every high school league decision. After making the painful, but obvious decision to cancel the spring sports season, the state waited to see what would happen with the fall season.

“The calendar had (the MSHSL board) in a bad spot,” Millea said. “The High School League had a meeting on August 4th, and they had to decide on fall sports then because the next meeting wasn’t until October 3rd. They decided football and volleyball would get moved to spring, and the rest of the sports would be limited. The Department of Health said those two sports were the most dangerous with COVID. They don’t like indoor sports in a confined space.”

Although the High School League takes its share of abuse, their decisions are mostly out of their hands.

“The decisions are all made by the Department of Health and the Department of Education. We follow their recommendations,” Millea – who has been with the High School League for eleven years – explained. “It is largely a county by county thing. The Department of Health has a line, and if the COVID cases get past that line, you can’t put kids in school. Everybody has to stay home for schools and activities. That has happened already, and games that are missed will not get made up.”

Not long ago, football and volleyball were brought back – on a limited schedule.

“There was pressure from outside states who were bringing high school sports back, so eventually, they decided to bring football and volleyball back.”

Once volleyball was back, the winter sports’ season was almost immediately back on.

“There wasn’t a lot of discussion on the winter sports season,” Millea – who before joining the High School League covered high school sports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune – explained. “I think since they decided to play fall sports, they decided ‘why wouldn’t we have winter sports?’ I think they decided, if we are bringing back volleyball – which is an indoor sport – how can we say no to other indoor sports? The biggest discussion was the calendar for winter sports. They are all going to start later. The seasons are going to be shorter, and there will be no more than three teams in a gym at any one time.”

“It is all to prevent the spread of the virus,” Millea continued. “You are supposed to schedule your closest possible opponents in your section and conference. With tournaments, they don’t want kids from a large number of different schools in the same place.”

Fall events have already had to cancel practices and games.

“We will see how it goes; schools are already having COVID issues. Some have been forced to full-distance learning and are having no activities because the COVID numbers are too high.”

If any sport can pull off a season, Millea feels wrestling has a better chance than most.

“Skip Toops – the wrestling coach from Pierz – spoke to the board during a Zoom meeting (two weeks ago), and he made great points about how wrestling is the best-equipped sport to do this because of the safety protocols that have been in place forever. Cleaning mats, skin checks, and everything, wrestling is in a great spot. People who don’t know about wrestling might say that it is the most dangerous sport, but I don’t think it is. Wrestling is so good at dealing with these things.”

Like fall sports, inevitably, there will be winter sports programs that will have COVID19 affect their programs.

“From the Department of Health, if you have a confirmed case that kid or coach is quarantined for fourteen days, or whatever it is,” Millea explained. “If anyone has contact with that person has to be tested, and I assume they would be quarantined too. You could see whole teams taken out. The schools have been contacting the Department of Health, and they have been advising the schools.”

At this point, with the limited schedules, Millea doesn’t expect high school sports to be shut down across the board.

“For a complete shutdown, it would have to be something like at The Clash a few years ago, when we had the skin disease spreading wildly,” Millea explained. “If a team is shutdown because wrestlers or coaches have tested positive, that is not going to impact anyone else other than their opponents.”

For now, there is no uniform system for reporting cases.

“For every sport, it is more or less an honor system,” Millea told The Guillotine. “I would assume coaches will talk to their kids and tell them, if you feel sick, let us know. I hope that is what they are doing before anything – practices or competitions.”

Although this entire school year will be changing on a day-to-day basis, I think everyone would agree, any kind of wrestling season is better than none.

“As long as we are allowing kids to be kids and are practicing,” Millea concluded, “are competing and are learning from their coaches, that is the beauty of high school sports.”


Check out John’s Journal at mshsl.org/about/news/johns-journal

John Millea (@MSHSLjohn) is an excellent follow on Twitter

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