With winter sports practices postponed until Nov. 30 and competitions suspended until Dec. 14, there is still a small level of uncertainty that remains within the high school athletic community amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is a fairly new decision that was announced Nov. 18, and it resulted from an amended Nov. 13 order from Gov. Doug Burgum.
Before the Nov. 18 change
The Nov. 13 order originally pushed the start of all winter sports practices to Dec. 14 and in doing so pushed back almost all competition start dates into late December.
But since all teams must have at least 10 days of practice per North Dakota High School Activities Association rules, competition would have more than likely started after winter break, which would be early January 2021.
Several athletic directors and principals from area schools were interviewed and shared their thoughts on the original order on Nov. 17, before that order was amended.
The initial shared sentiment was that by pushing winter sports start dates to Dec. 14, that would create later problems down the line, particularly with things like scheduling games.
For example, in an email exchange from Trenton High School Principal Steve Morben on Nov. 17, Morben said the biggest concern is what the governor’s decision will do to the schedules for Trenton’s basketball teams, which are the only winter sports teams the school has.
“If we must wait until December 14th to even begin practicing, then our game schedules will need a major overhaul and could lead to losing several games against teams outside our region,” Morben said in his email.
He also added that since the North Dakota High School Activities Association would keep the post-season tournaments scheduled for the dates when they were set, the Nov. 13 order also meant the very real possibility of scheduling a shortened regular season.
Ryan Albrecht, the athletic director at Tioga High School, said a similar situation would unfold at his school.
“This 1-month delay is going to make things difficult not just for sports but other NDHSAA sponsored activities,” Albrecht said in an email on Nov. 17. “I coach Junior High Boys Basketball, and this affects Junior High sports as well. This means games will need to be rescheduled and practices reorganized. Referees from the coaching association will need to rework their schedules as well and we are already seeing a shortage of referees. Sports are not going to be able to start until after the Christmas break for most schools. As of now our seasons will be shorten too.”
David Mieure, the athletic director from Williston High School; Blake Lampert, the athletic director from Grenora High School; Dave Butler, Williston Trinity Christian School’s athletic director and Trinity Christian’s Principal Cory Fleck all answered similar questions and shared similar thoughts about the original order, about what it meant for their teams and about how well their students were handling everything.
But it was also clear that the NDHSAA, after having a zoom meeting with athletic directors across the state, was already hoping to work out a different solution with the governor’s office.
That was confirmed in a Nov. 18 news release from Burgum’s office regarding the change in the decision.
According to the release, the governor changed the Nov. 13 order after “daily consultation and collaboration between the governor and legislative leaders, constructive input from the North Dakota High School Activities Association and athletic associations and feedback from numerous legislators, parents, school administrators, students, coaches, mental health professionals, and others concerned about the impacts of suspended activities on students’ well-being.”
Post Nov. 18 decision
Albrecht said the decision to move sports to Nov. 30 instead of Dec. 14 is a sign of hope for his student-athletes.
“They want to be able to play and they now have a chance to have more games and practices,” he said in a Nov. 19 email. “This will help us have a more positive attitude at our school among the students. This change will make it easier for us to get our practices in and be able to reschedule some of our games.”
Morben said in a Nov. 19 email that overall this is a better solution for Trenton’s basketball teams because having to be suspended all the way until Dec. 14 would have created more havoc with the schedule.
But at the same time he said it is still difficult to say whether this is a better solution when considering the impact of the pandemic.
“We are anticipating that either the Governor’s office or the NDHSAA will be bringing forward some additional protocols that pertain to fan attendance at contests, since those situations give rise to increased opportunities for community spread of the virus,” he said.
Mieure said in a Nov. 19 text message that there is still the very present and constant struggle with COVID-19 and additional problems could arise at any moment.
However, he said he is glad WHS student-athletes and the coaches are able to practice again on Nov. 30 and spend time doing what they love.
“I hope that the virus trends downward so we can extend the season as long as possible,” Mieure said.
Terrille Jacobson, the athletic director for Alexander Public Schools, also mentioned that overall they are going to make the best of any situation and do so for their kids.
“I feel that our kids here in Alexander have been very accepting of the situation,” she said in a Nov. 19 email. “Yes, they have been disappointed to hear about the change in schedules, but they also understand the challenges of the situation we are in.”
Jacobson said they choose to take one day, one week, one practice and one game at a time.
“Tomorrow’s chance of participation is not guaranteed, so we need to make the most out of each opportunity as it comes – whether it be in the form of practice or games or matches,” she said. “The challenge is and will remain to stay healthy and be smart in avoiding situations with close contact.”