Football, volleyball return

MSHSL reinstates sports to fall season; Ely teams to resume

by Nick Wognum
High school football and volleyball are back in Ely and across the state of Minnesota.
Action Monday by the Minnesota State High School League’s board of directors reversed an August decision to move those sports to the spring and placed them back in what will be an abbreviated fall season.
Practices have started and games begin in just under two weeks in both sports, although volleyball games will be held without spectators because of state restrictions related to the coronavirus.
But up to 250 fans will be allowed at outdoor events, and the lights will go on at Ely School Stadium either Oct. 14 or Oct. 15 for the home football opener with Cook County.
The developments made for a hectic week at Ely High School, with practice plans and game schedules coming rapidly into place for seasons that had been put on hold.
“There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation and a lot of smiling faces,” said athletic director Tom Coombe.
The MSHSL decision was widely anticipated after a board workshop the week before where members sent strong signals they would reinstate both sports.
The board vote was 15-3 in favor of football and 14-4 for volleyball.
The grassroots “Let Them Play” movement generated thousands of supporters statewide, and organizers cited numerous points in making the case to allow both football and volleyball.
Currently, 37 states have allowed high school football in the fall, including all of the states surrounding Minnesota - Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Supporters also came armed with medical data showing that the restart of prep football has not resulted in significant spread of COVID-19, and they were packed by medical experts who said school closures and activity cancellations resulted in increases of mental health issues among teens.
They also pointed to the successful resumption of other activities in August, including cross country, swimming and soccer.
Bob Madison, an associate director of the MSHSL, addressed board members and said the resumption of activities provided the best opportunity for students to participate in a “controlled” environment, under MSHSL safety protocols and under the direction of school coaches.
The MSHSL has guidelines and recommendations in place for all activities, including provisions for sanitizing equipment, hand sanitizing, limits on practice pod sizes, and bans on sharing equipment or water bottles.
Ely has adopted additional protocols including daily health screenings for players and weekly COVID-19 testing for teachers who are also coaching volleyball or football.
The MSHSL board took nearly three hours to come up with its decision, but the outcome appeared to be a formality early on, with debate largely centering around dates of competition and opportunities for postseason play.
“Today’s decision, based on what we currently know and with the unknowns of what spring will bring, is based on the belief that playing now provides us the best opportunity to play a football and volleyball season,” said Blaine Novak, MSHSL board president.
Both the volleyball and football teams in Ely will formally start practice Monday, although the football team also held workouts late this week as allowed by the MSHSL.
Ely’s football team opens play Oct. 9 at South Ridge, while the vollyeball opener remains to be determined.
Football teams will play six regular season contests and volleyball has a 14-game regular season, with both sports allowed a two-week postseason that figures to be limited to section play.
The decisions related to fall sports could offer some clues as to what may be ahead for winter sports, including hockey, boys and girls basketball and Nordic skiing. All are currently scheduled to begin practice sessions in November, with games and contests starting later that month or early-December, depending on the activity.
A calendar for winter sports could be determined as soon as Oct. 1, when the MSHSL board meets again.