With high school sports moving outside this spring, the athletes who play them have their governing body urging that they be allowed to compete without having to wear masks.

The Minnesota State High School League's board of directors, meeting virtually Thursday, unanimously approved a statement from its eight-member sports medicine advisory committee to ask the Minnesota Department of Health to allow masks to be removed while athletes are in competition.

The league's committee recommended mask-wearing continue "immediately following the competition and during all breaks in competition,'' the statement said, such as before and after races, and while players are between innings in the dugout or returning to the bench area.

The league said it hopes to get a response from the health department in about a week.

Reached for comment Thursday, state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the ideal would be to permit outdoor competition without masks in combination with increased vaccination and testing of athletes.

''We understand that people are eager to be able to be outside. We've said all along that the risk is lower outside, which it is, but it's not zero,'' Malcolm said.

Mask-wearing during winter sports competition and practice became mandatory after a surge in COVID-19 cases in November led to a six-week pause in high school and youth sports. Exceptions were allowed for competition in some sports, such as Nordic and Alpine skiing and swimming.

Citing the more recent threat of COVID variants, which are more easily transmitted, Malcolm added, "We just keep pleading with people to keep doing what they can to reduce the risks of transmission.''

Section changes
The league announced section changes effective for the next school year. In boys' hockey, Class 1A state finalists Dodge County and Gentry Academy become Class 2A programs. Runner-up Dodge County moves to Section 1 with the Rochester and Lakeville schools. Champion Gentry Academy heads to Section 4 with the likes of Hill-Murray, Stillwater and White Bear Lake, according to a list of changes obtained by the Star Tribune.

Cretin-Derham Hall leaves west-metro dominated Section 6 for Section 3 with closer geographic programs such as St. Thomas Academy and Eagan. On the girls' side, Cretin-Derham Hall and Gentry Academy will join the same new sections as their respective boys' programs.

In boys' basketball, Minnehaha Academy, which won the Class 3A state championship last Saturday, returns to Class 2A in Section 4. It had opted up to Class 3A in 2019. Among other changes, Maple Grove moved to Section 5 in Class 4A, leaving Section 8, where it was replaced by Class 4A newcomer Bemidji.

In girls' basketball, Class 4A newcomer Waconia joins Section 2, replacing Bloomington Jefferson, which moves to Section 3.

In football, Class 6A offers a full 32-team bracket with the return of Coon Rapids and Park of Cottage Grove, both 5A programs the past several seasons. Cretin-Derham Hall, until recently a perennial power in Class 6A, previously announced it's moving to Class 5A, where the league placed it in Section 4.

In Class 5A, Elk River joined Section 7 and Spring Lake Park moved to Section 6.

Spring state tournaments
Championships in golf, lacrosse, softball, boys' tennis, and track and field will be held from June 14-19. While baseball's full schedule was not released, its four championship games are scheduled for June 18 at Target Field.

Softball will once again conclude at Caswell Park in North Mankato. And golf's three classes will play their typical tracks in Becker, Coon Rapids and Jordan. Locations for boys' tennis, as well as lacrosse and track and field, are undecided.

New sports draw closer
With a decision about adding boys' volleyball and girls' wrestling about a month away, the board discussed basic parameters for each sport. Boys' volleyball, currently a club sport, would become a varsity sport next spring. Girls' wrestling, meanwhile, would begin in 2021-22 and run concurrent with the boys' winter season. A final vote by the league's Representative Committee is expected at its next meeting on May 11.

Staff writer Jeremy Olson contributed to this report.