MINNEAPOLIS — At least 500 people logged on to a Zoom call Monday morning as the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) reversed course and voted to return football and volleyball back to the fall season.
The MSHSL Board of Directors had originally voted Aug. 4 to move volleyball and football to a spring start date in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. The proximity of athletes and a greater amount of physical contact in football particularly was behind the vote.
On Monday the board voted 15-3 to reinstate football for the fall, starting Sept. 28. There will be a six-game regular season schedule, with the first game Oct. 9. Playoffs will happen over a two-week period at the end of the season.
The board also voted 14-4 to move volleyball back to fall with the season starting Sept. 28. It will involve 10 days of practice and 14 competitions, stretching out over an 11-week season. The vote followed an extensive discussion about the pros and cons of fall or spring, and the safety of indoor sports when COVID-19 cases are still spiking in many Minnesota communities.
Earlier the board voted 18-0 in favor of allowing schools to resume their adapted soccer seasons, but with practices only: No competitions or scrimmages.
Board members opened Monday's meeting by listening to Dawn Gillman from "Let Them Play," an organization that has been outspoken about rescinding the decision to move football and volleyball. Gillman told the board that she spoke with the governor's office and confirmed that there have been no deaths or hospitalizations due to sporting events, and told them 33 states are successfully playing football this fall.
Gillman asked MSHSL to allow outdoor seating and standing at high school football games and in the gym for volleyball, all while honoring social distancing policies. She said her organization is urging that athletes not be forced to wear facemasks while competing, adding that those on the sidelines can.
Board member Dr. Bill Roberts maintains that the concern is mainly that athletes in those two sports are face to face breathing hard, and said that is the biggest worry for transmission of the virus.
Dr. Roberts also noted that coronavirus attacks the heart, and some patients have suffered heart damage. He explained that 26 players in the Ohio State football program were infected, and some are dealing with myocarditis.
Seniors Nick Marinaro and William Petty were among those holding their breath, hoping that the MSHSL would reverse its decision and allow football and volleyball to be played this fall.
"I'm cautiously optimistic, definitely," Marinaro said.
"Maybe having a season again is very exciting," Petty said. "I would rather do it now in the fall, because in the spring, the season would start in March and the ground is frozen in March. That's really dangerous, because that could cause all sorts of injuries."
According to MaxPreps.com, at least 33 states are playing football this fall.
The August vote to move football and volleyball also included deciding to allow the sports of soccer and cross country to hold their fall seasons, with some adaptations to lessen the chances of spreading COVID-19. After those sports have gotten off to a successful start, Marinaro and Petty's parents believe football should be allowed, too.
"We just want it to feel fair. And there hasn't been any evidence brought forward to show why is football being held back?" Sue Marinaro said.
"The surrounding states have not had the outbreak and have not had it spread like they thought it would spread through football," William Petty said.
The states surrounding Minnesota are all currently playing high school football. There have been some games canceled, like Valley City, North Dakota's opener. But no widespread problems.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, sports have led to COVID-19 outbreaks in the state.
"We've had 62 outbreaks or clusters. Fifteen have been associated with basketball, nine with soccer, nine with hockey, nine with football. Six with volleyball," said Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at MDH.
But a lot of the families pushing for the change are skeptical, and say not to underestimate the importance of sports -- to a lot of high school kids.
"A lot of kids I know, the only way they get through school is football," Marinaro said.