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Gator athletics responds to postponed fall season

Garrett Undeberg carries the ball during a Gator home loss to the Stephen-Argyle Central Storm on September 13, 2019. In Minnesota, football and volleyball this season have postponed to the spring, but the teams involved in these sports are allowed to practice in the fall. (photo by Val Truscinski)

Approximately 33 Gator football players went to pick up their equipment for the 2020 season on Monday, August 3 at the Greenbush-Middle River School.

“The guys were all pumped about it… thinking we were going to be playing in the fall,” Gator Head Football Coach John Lee said.

Then, the next day, August 4, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) announced its guidance on fall sports. It decided to postpone the football and volleyball seasons to the spring— potentially March— and allowed for four fall activities to go on as scheduled, including girls tennis, boys and girls cross country, boys and girls soccer and girls swimming and diving, beginning August 17, but with limitations.

In the evening on August 4, following this announcement, the Gator varsity and junior varsity players began a three-day camp following the guidelines that had already been set, including wearing masks. The team was disapppointed following the announcement. Some Gator players even thought the season was over and didn’t ever come back to the camp, held at the team’s home field, Rocket Field in Badger. The team still had about 28 or 29 athletes show up for the camp.

At this time, the volleyball and football seasons are indeed not over, but when and if they take actually do take place, they will look different, outside the matches and games taking place at a different time.

Gator Athletic Director Sharon Schultz, Gator Head Volleyball Coach Stacy Dahl, Coach Lee, and a few Gator senior athletes responded to the league’s announcement. The coaches also commented on their expectations for their respective teams this season.

As Gator Athletic Director Sharon Schultz explained, Gator athletics is still awaiting for more guidance related to fall sports. Many unknowns remain, from fan attendance to what date specifically these seasons will take place.

As for the sports that are still on, they will have a number of requirements. For example, the number of teams involved in competition will be limited and competition must be held with local opponents, including with a team’s conference, district, or section. The season length will be reduced to 80 percent and the number of competitions will be reduced to 70 percent. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River girl student-athletes interested in participating in the girls’ swimming and diving co-op with Roseau and Warroad, and Badger student-athletes interested in participating in the cross country co-op with Roseau still have the option to participate in competition this fall and potentially get in four sports seasons.

“I’m hoping it’s going to work and I think it will,” Badger Dean of Students Stacey Warne said at an August 10 board meeting.

Warne and Schultz both did highlight how all fall sports, including football and volleyball, and spring sports will be allowed to practice this fall.

Following the league’s announcement, Schultz expressed sadness and disappointment that a typical fall sports season won’t take place.

“Watching our students at all their activities is so much fun — I often use the term joyful — and it is a big part of small town social life,” Schultz said via email.

But, Schultz also understands the great responsibility the league has for students’ health and safety and how it was a difficult decision for all involved. The league’s Return to Participation Task Force worked to develop programming options for the 2020-2021 school year that it presented to the League’s Board of Directors for final approval.

“The Return to Participation Task Force and Board of Directors put in a tremendous amount of time studying this issue and weighing options,” Schultz said via email. “None of us has a crystal ball to predict how the (COVID-19) pandemic will play out.”

These same types of feelings— initial disappoint, but also appreciation— were echoed by others within Gator athletics.

Gator Head Volleyball Coach Stacy Dahl said she was shocked and surprised by the league’s announcement initially, commenting on the difficulty in foreseeing a spring volleyball season happening.

“At the same token, we looked at it as like a challenge and perhaps even a difficulty. And sometimes that just makes you better,” Coach Dahl said. “You have to just plow ahead and you have to control what you can control. And so we just are adapting, I guess, to what the changes will be and how we need to react to it and compete.”

Following the announcement, her message to her team was that it will figure out what the rules are and take it all in as it comes.

“When there are so many unknowns, you can’t speculate. You can’t jump the gun. You have to just wait and see,” Coach Dahl said. “…. We have to be patient and we have to be positive.”

As Dahl pointed out, the league could have said that these fall athletes were not going to compete at all.

“The fact that we are allowed to have a season, that’s really exciting,” Coach Dahl said. “It might not be when we thought it was going to happen. But it’s still an opportunity that’s coming on the horizon… we can just await what they’re going to decide and make the best of it. That’s what sports are all about.”

To see the complete story, including a few Gator senior athletes’ comments and the Gator fall head coaches’ expectations for their teams heading into the season, read the August 12 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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