With June disappearing fast, Fergus Falls activities director Derek Abrahams is caught between the realities of the present and those of an uncertain future.
Minnesota schools generally kick off fall extracurricular activities less than two months from now, nearly a month before classes begin in September. There is a new and dangerous player in the game this year.
Abrahams saw Fergus Falls come close to achieving two-thirds of its 2019-20 activities schedule last year. The Otter boys’ basketball team was aced out of a state tournament trip by the COVID-19 virus. When the school closed spring extracurricular activities became a wash. No sports, no prom and only virtual graduation.
But that was Round 1.
The state is presently in a phased reopening. Small businesses are getting more freedom to operate, golf courses and resorts are open. Bars and restaurants are coming back. Church congregations are returning to worship.
On Monday, the District 544 School Board looked at a 100-page COVID-19 preparedness plan. It will determine what type of learning plan Minnesota schools will follow when classes resume Sept. 8 - face to face, a hybrid of face to face and distance learning or the 100% distance learning model that schools were following when the 2019-20 school year ended.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has announced that he will make a decision on which way the state will go by July 27.
“Right now we’re anticipating having a fall season,” Abrahams said.
Will it be the same fall season Otter athletes experienced in 2019?
Abrahams does not see that happening but he added that at this point there has not been a single decision made.
“They are trying to get rid of unnecessary contact,” Abraham said, hinting that handshaking and meetings between team captains and officials before and after events are not likely to take place.
Wednesday was the first day Minnesota student-athletes were allowed to gather in pods of up to 25.
Masks are being worn and unnecessary contact is being avoided. If two pods gather in a gym or a practice field they have to remain separate from each other. He has noted that coaches are especially good about wearing masks.
“Coaches can work with their players in the summer,” Abrahams said. “Nothing we’re doing supersedes what the state is allowing.”
Some sports like football and hockey are considered high risk. Others, like cross country and swimming, are low risk.
The number of precautions necessary will still have to be worked out.
“This is kind of a trial run,” Abrahams said, pointing out that if COVID-19 cases start to rise the workouts will shut down again.
There will also be other decisions to be made. While Otter Tail County has only 85 confirmed COVID-19 cases at this time, the Otters compete in Section 8AA - the largest section in the state geographically - stretching from Thief River Falls to Monticello.
Some Fergus Falls teams also compete against teams from the Twin Cities metro area - which has seen the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
The decision Gov. Walz makes in July will have to reflect what is best for the entire state.
“What happens in June and July will determine what the fall looks like,” Abrahams said. “I know everyone wants it. The idea right now is, what do we have to do to make it happen?”