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MSHSL approves plan to start winter sports as early as Dec. 21

The actual start date will depend on Minnesota's COVID-19 data, and when Governor Walz lifts his "pause" on youth sports.

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) board of directors voted unanimously in a virtual session Thursday morning to start the winter sports season as soon as a pause on high school and youth sports is lifted by the state.

Board members approved a three-model plan formulated by the MSHSL return to participation task force. The task force framed those models by saying they offer flexibility depending on when Governor Tim Walz lifts Executive Order 20-99, which is currently scheduled to expire on Dec. 18. 

The first option is for winter season to begin on Dec. 21, three days after the governor's pause is currently scheduled to end. Teams would hold two weeks of practice, and could begin competition the week of Jan. 4. 

If the pause on sports activities is extended, model two calls for practices to begin Jan. 4, with competitions for most sports beginning during the week of Jan. 11. If the stoppage of youth sports is extended even further, model three would start practices Jan. 18, with competitions to begin during the week of Jan. 25. 

During discussion before the vote, board members talked about the importance of student athletes getting back to their sports from a mental health perspective. Some also voiced concern that if high schools don't offer opportunities to participate and compete, student athletes will seek other opportunities outside the "high school umbrella." 

"The safest and best ways for students to compete is under our guidance," one director said. 

All three models include open weeks to allow flexibility for illness, scheduling issues, and if guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) allows, the possibility for state tournament competitions. 

The pause enacted by the governor's executive order is an effort by the state to control an explosion of community spread and rising COVID cases, which included outbreaks of coronavirus delaying or even canceling fall athletic events at all levels of sport. 

Winter activities impacted by Thursday's vote include boys and girls basketball, boys and girls hockey, wrestling, alpine and Nordic skiing, swimming, dance, gymnastics, and adapted floor hockey. 

Because of the overlap in seasons between winter and spring sports, the board discussed the spring sports season but kept those parameters as-is due to the uncertainty of Minnesota's COVID-19 situation. 

In later discussion, the board of directors voted unanimously to approve a virtual state debate tournament and a virtual one act play festival following models and guidelines currently OK'd for section competition.

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