The quest to find a safe way for youth sports in Minnesota to return to action during the coronavirus pandemic has become a little more streamlined.
Instead of individual groups representing particular sports drawing up plans and sending them to Gov. Tim Walz — which has been happening in recent weeks — a group representing sports, facilities and even schools has coalesced, tasked with creating an overall template for a safe return that will be presented to Walz’s administration.
Leading the way is Todd Johnson, executive director of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission and the National Sports Center in Blaine.
“Think of all the folks trying to get the attention of the administration, the governor right now,” Johnson said.
Johnson uses this analogy: It’s like an airport limited to one runway in a thunderstorm, and all the sports are like planes circling and waiting for clearance to land.
This week there have been Zoom conference calls trying to create a template that will be delivered by Monday to Tarek Tomes, the commissioner of Minnesota IT Services and the state’s chief information officer. On Monday, the current stay-at-home order expires and some restrictions around the state will be loosened.
Tomes has been tasked by Walz with handling the issue of youth sports during the pandemic. He will then deliver that template to Walz, a starting point for talks aimed at a return to play.
The template is an overarching set of guidelines. Moving forward, each sport would create additional procedures appropriate to their particular sport.
Johnson said the MASC and the National Sports Center are essentially acting like a clearinghouse.
“We can be that entity,” Johnson said. “So each sport has the best opportunity for a safe landing. First and foremost is the safety of the kids, the youth, the players, the participants, the families, the community. This is about how we can make sure that’s central to every decision that is made.”
Johnson offered to coordinate the process. It started Monday, gathering the group together, followed by conference calls with upward of 50 people participating. And it’s not only sports. Representatives of facilities are involved, as are the state’s department of health and education.
“We’re trying to figure out a way that it gets done in the most expeditious and safest way possible,” Johnson said.
Johnson cited a book called “Crunch Time: How To Be Your Best When It Matters Most,” written by Judd Hoekstra and Rick Peterson, a 15-year pitching coach in the major leagues, as inspiration for the task ahead.
“It’s about taking a crisis and trying to reframe it,” he said.