Football, volleyball coaches react to their sports being postponed to Spring

Urban or rural, each coach will face challenges, but they're relieved for no cancellation

Sloane Martin
August 04, 2020 - 6:46 pm
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No matter the location of the school or which sport, the Minnesota State High School League’s decision Tuesday on the upcoming plan for Fall sports is challenging for coaches, many of whom are also teachers, parents and/or administrators.

Many coaches said they don’t envy the High School League’s decision-makers but they’re pleased they have a chance to play and there was no outright cancelation.

Derek Flann, head football coach, assistant baseball coach and activities director at BOLD High School west of the Twin Cities, said he's worried about the “social-emotional health” of the small communities that make up the district (Bird Island, Olivia, and Lake Lillian), adding that residents look forward to cheering on the Warriors with volleyball games able to draw hundreds and football games capable of reaching over 1,000 in attendance. 

“There’s not a lot to do Thursday night and Friday night,” Flann said. “We’re just left driving up and down Main Street. It’s unfortunate that we’ll have to get through what’s going to be a difficult time period without that network of athletics and activities and things kids can rely on.”

RELATED: MSHSL votes against starting football and volleyball seasons in the fall

As a small school, now only cross country will be offered in the Fall at BOLD.

“It’s going to be stressful on the multi-sport athletes which everyone relies on out here,” Flann said. 

James Herberg, head football coach at Rocori High School in Cold Spring and a high school social studies teacher, said navigating the pandemic and its effect on student-athletes is an example of how “the field is an extension of the classroom.”

“We have a critical role as coaches to find a way to continue to motivate these kids and get them through this tough time,” he said.

Football and volleyball will be permitted organized practice opportunities in the Fall, pending eligibility committee details, which will allow the coaches and players to stay connected. 

“I’m hopeful we have time together this Fall to train and gain better relationships and enjoy each other and keep exploring what we love,” Wayzata volleyball coach of two decades, Scott Jackson, said.

“We have to dig deep and be creative and find ways to make meaningful learning take place and meaningful connections and relationships take place on the practice field or the classroom,” Herberg said. “Unfortunately this isn’t one of those things that we can control, but how we respond to it absolutely is. And that’s imperative in this situation to try to make positive interactions and connections with kids. They really need them right now because they’re struggling as well.”

Volleyball players have an advantage in still getting the attention of college recruiters at club matches. There’s a large one scheduled in Minnesota every April that draws some of the top Division I programs.

The coaches were appreciative of the MSHSL’s difficult position in making decisions for the future of high school sports this year, as school districts across the state open up in different ways in the coming weeks under Gov. Tim Walz’s plan.

“I appreciate the high school league not taking the easiest decision which would have been ‘we’re just going to cancel things’ and trying to get outside the box and create some opportunities,” Flann said. “In these rural areas where we have lower infection rates we would have liked to have seen the opportunity to play right away, but it also might have gotten to the case where we couldn’t have had tournaments and things like that in the Fall.”

Flann said the “worst case scenario” would have been cancelation, and all coaches hoped to avoid what happened to spring sport athletes who had their seasons wiped out in March as they started. At BOLD, that particularly affected the baseball and girls golf teams that were not able to defend their state titles.

Chad Gimbel, head football coach at Blooming Prairie and a business education teacher, said the staff is trying its best to lead the team in a difficult time.

“You learn how to survive,” Gimbel said of sports. “You learn one day at a time, one play at a time. We always have a game plan going to every football game, but shoot, we gotta be ready to adjust on the fly and that’s what it’s like right now.”

Gimbel said he feels for the athletes, especially seniors, who are missing out on traditions. 

Jackson, Gimbel and Herberg are all coming off state championship wins in their respective classes (with Flann a runner-up to Gimbel's Awesome Blossoms), and though they’ll be able to enjoy that title longer, as coaches, parents, teachers or administrators it won’t get easier as they digest the news: Flann, as the AD, is coordinating with coaches as well as players, and Herberg and Gimbel are preparing lessons for three possible classroom/at-home scenarios while connecting to their teams. They said they want to instill strength, patience and perseverance in their teams.

“We’ll try to keep as positive an attitude as we can and try to keep moving forward and hopefully get back to normal by the Fall of 2021,” Flann said.

“This is a sting today, but we’re here for them,” Jackson said.

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