The sounds of basketball shoes squeaking and skates cutting into fresh ice aren't far away for Minnesota youth sports.
But as the state's youth wait another two weeks to return to gyms and rinks, new procedures and stricter enforcement of guidelines are being considered to counter concerns about fueling the spread of COVID-19.
Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday that youth sports can resume practice Jan. 4. With the return of games not determined, youth sports governing bodies and the governor's office are working out updated procedures for a safe return.
During the four-week pause on youth sports, Glen Andresen, the executive director of Minnesota Hockey, and others have worked on updating procedures and protocols. Many have been submitted to the governor's office.
Some of the proposed hockey changes: All locker rooms will be closed, players arrive fully dressed, no bags in facilities and no spectators at practice.
Minnesota Hockey recommended many of these guidelines to member associations before the pause, but they would become strict rules if adopted.
Exceptions to these rules would allow goalies to arrive half-dressed in their equipment and one parent or guardian to attend practice for Mites and 8U.
"We may revise that once we move along and games start being played," Andresen said.
The organization hopes games can start about two weeks after practices resume, or Jan. 18.
The rules won't be new for the Chaska Chanhassen Hockey Association. Holly Tchida, who is on the association's COVID-19 committee and has two kids in hockey, said she has seen young players buy into the guidelines from the get-go. She has also seen strong adherence to District 6's seven-minute rule for getting in and out of the arena.
"They just want to play, and they'll do what it takes," Tchida said.
Basketball players and families will have to do the same for tournaments, a staple of winter youth play, to happen.
Dawson Blanck, executive director of Minnesota Youth Athletic Services (MYAS), said a return-to-participation manual has been submitted to the governor's office by a task force through the Minnesota Youth Basketball Alliance (MYBA), made up of 140 associations from around the state.
At tournaments, about one spectator per player and two coaches will be allowed inside per team. Before the pause, two spectators per player were allowed. Players, coaches and families will have to wait outside the building, not just the gym, until it's time for their games while cleaning happens between sessions.
The task force also found inconsistent reporting compliance previously, so each association will need to have a COVID-19 compliance manager. Every two weeks, the compliance manager will report the association's COVID status. As incentive, those following through will be eligible to participate in any MYBA invitational tournament and the state championships.
All of these changes are to ensure that basketball tournaments can be held.
"It's a matter of when it can take place, when the tournament setting can take place," Blanck said. "That's the biggest thing right now, now that we have an understanding on when we can move forward with practices."