The Chisago Lakes football and volleyball teams, their seasons put on hold for the second time this fall by rising COVID-19 cases, learned Thursday that they are done for the year.
The Chisago Lakes school board, in a virtual meeting with more than 300 people listening in, voted unanimously to discontinue fall sports after the 1,100-student school in Lindstrom, Minn., moved swiftly back to distance learning this week as COVID cases soared.
The volleyball team played three games. The football team played one.
During the meeting, board members said area COVID numbers have spiked in recent weeks to levels significantly higher than the threshold for schools to be in distance learning and to restrict sports to virtual practices and no games. Despite pleas from parents to keep sports and activities going, board members said they had no choice but to adhere to provisions in the state’s “safe learning plan.’’
The board also signaled that winter sports will be delayed until Jan. 4 at the earliest. Several members agreed that starting them would only be considered if the area’s COVID case numbers decline.
Before the meeting, volleyball coach Hannah Lindstrom had provided board members with letters from several players, a video from players, and an online petition signed by more than 1,700 people, urging that the team be allowed to keep playing despite the move to distance learning.
“We are devastated,’’ Lindstrom said. “We know the board sees a bigger picture and wants what’s best for the community. We know they are bound by guidelines and changing statistics. We respect them greatly and know they are doing what they are required to do. But we were not expecting this.’’
The board approved Dec. 2 as the first possible “reset date’’ to consider shifting to a mix of in-person and distance learning that would allow sports and activities to resume. High school winter sports are scheduled to begin practices later this month.
“This is not easy on anyone,’’ board member Brenda Carlson said. “Our spread is in our community.’’
Game cancellations have been commonplace at schools across the state. Some came after positive cases led to quarantines resulting in not enough athletes to field teams. Others followed schools shifting to distance learning because of area COVID numbers increasing, and restricting sports to virtual practices and no games.
What made Chisago Lakes unusual is the shift back to distance learning within a matter of weeks. That led to its volleyball and football teams canceling games and holding virtual practices for much of October, then briefly resuming in-person practices and games until things were put on hold again Wednesday.
School district superintendent Dean Jennissen, in announcing the move to distance learning in a message to families on Tuesday, said, “Community spread from random points has overwhelmed our high school program and the ability to safely maintain our learning environment.’’
As of Thursday, the school had more than 150 students required to quarantine, eight positive student cases of COVID, two positive staff cases and 10 staff quarantined, athletic director Jodi Otte said. Students in quarantine include the B-squad football team and ninth-grade and B-squad volleyball teams, she said.
After starting their season with three canceled games, the volleyball team played its most recent match Monday.
Members of the volleyball team sent a video to the school board before the meeting in the hopes its season would be allowed to continue.
The football team, which also had to cancel three games, played its only game last Saturday. Coach Bill Weiss, who also addressed the board, lauded his athletes for their resiliency in the face of factors they could not control.
“The joy and the excitement that those guys had on Saturday, I mean you could feel something out there,’’ Weiss said before the meeting. “I’m sure they’re not taking anything for granted anymore.”
Lindstrom said, “I don’t know who to ‘blame.’ But I hope our community can lower the rate of COVID-19 so no other program has to go through this again.’’