In a rather dramatic step forward, the Minnesota Department of Health announced youth outdoor sports can return to games and scrimmages Wednesday, while indoor sports can do the same July 1.
Full team practices for all sports can start Wednesday. For athletes and organizations that had been shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic, this is big news.
“I think it was a deliberate and intentional rollout,” said Todd Johnson of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission. “They just wanted to get it right.”
The MDH recommended a phased-in approach to the reopening of all sports, especially sports that haven’t been able to have games to his point.
That means beginning with inter-team scrimmages as part of practice for two weeks, followed by games against nearby teams. Two weeks after that, teams can consider expanding to competition beyond the local community, taking into account the COVID-19 case level before making travel decisions.
Still, it is a big step forward. Team sports such as baseball, softball and soccer appear on the verge of starting back up. Sports such as basketball and hockey aren’t far behind.
“It is important that we look for opportunities to allow children to engage in activities that promote health and well-being,” state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a news release, adding: “Learning to live with COVID-19 means finding ways to balance risks and benefits, and that’s what we are seeking to do with this guidance.”
For some, though, it’s bittersweet. Dan Pfeffer, commissioner of USA Softball Minnesota, said his organization had already canceled its summer season, refunding $500,000 in fees. Ditto for the Minnesota Youth Soccer Association.
“We’re planning for our fall season,” MYSA Executive Director Matthew Madeira said.
Pfeffer said his organization will stage a state softball tournament for all age groups at the end of July. Madeira said his organization will serve as an information source for soccer teams trying to schedule local games on their own.
Dawson Blanck is executive director of Minnesota Youth Athletic Services, which is heavily involved in youth baseball and basketball. The original April-through-July summer league was canceled. But MYAS is going to start a hybrid, shortened summer program that runs July 6 through Aug. 14. And, in conjunction with Metro Baseball League, it is staging the Baseball Alliance of Minnesota for teams originally sponsored by the likes of American Legion and the VFW.
When it comes to basketball, the plan is to start facilitating tournament options for teams the weekend after July 4th. “We used to talk about the unknowns,” Blanck said. “Now we can at least move forward with something. We are stressing, of course, that safety is our No. 1 priority.”
Glen Andresen, executive director of Minnesota Hockey, said this decision will bring confidence to those planning for the upcoming season. Events start in August.
The MDH recommended trying to reduce contact between players as much as possible, even during games, and to develop policies that take into account coaches, players or volunteers at higher risk of complications from the virus.
Crowds should be kept at a minimum at practices and games, and social distancing guidelines should be enforced for those who do attend. Face masks should be worn whenever possible, and participating groups should be limited to pods of 25 or fewer people.
Said Tarek Tomes, the state’s IT commissioner, who has been overseeing youth sports during the pandemic: “The new guidance, shaped by the partnerships we have built and the conversations we have had with members of the organized sports community, empowers Minnesotans to stay as safe as possible while resuming competitive play around the sports that we love.”