Winter sports practices and all other extracurricular activities are expected to resume or start on Nov. 30 with extra precautions after an about-face from the state.
The reason cited for the change was a concern about the impacts of the suspension on students’ well-being.
Originally, on Friday, Nov. 13, Gov. Doug Burgum announced a decision to postpone all start dates for winter sports, including ones that already started prior to Nov. 13, to Dec. 14.
At that time practices for wrestling at area schools and hockey at Williston High School already started, and originally first competitions were expected by Thanksgiving.
This response was in conjunction with other increased measures from the state to curb the spread of COVID-19, reduce record infections and hospitalizations and take the pressure off the state’s strained health care providers and staff in the face of a pending capacity crisis, according to a Nov. 18 press release.
And the reason the state suspended activities was to help avert a statewide crisis of rationing care, according to the press release.
“The order is focused on reducing transmissible moments, including between young people who are more likely to be asymptomatic spreaders and unknowingly infect friends, family members and others,” the press release read.
But earlier this week, Burgum announced jointly with House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, that the decision to amend the original Nov. 13 order resulted from a concern for students’ well-being.
According to the press release, the change came 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.
“Our goals remain unchanged: to protect the most vulnerable, provide relief to our stressed hospitals and health care workers, keep students in school and businesses open, and preserve the winter sports season,” Burgum said. “We appreciate the constructive solutions proposed by multiple districts and associations on how they will conduct practices safely, and we will continue to work with the North Dakota High School Activities Association and others on safely resuming competitions on Dec. 14.”
Wardner and Pollert also said that there is a level of importance in keeping the schools open and keeping students engaged in athletics and other extracurricular activities.
Wardner said those activities promote students’ mental, emotional and physical health, something he said he understands as a former coach and educator.
At the same time, he also said this new decision will address the pleas coming from hospitals across the state to take immediate action to slow the spread, while also balancing the concerns from parents and students.
In addition to the new suspension timeline, additional precautions that coaches and athletic associations said they will be taking at practices to help slow the spread and do their part to save vulnerable North Dakotans include no travel for association activities outside of their home territory, no locker room use, coaches masked at all times, and no spectators, with facilities restricted to players, coaches and staff only.
The NDHSAA also released its own set of guidelines for each winter sport just as it did for fall sports that teams and schools are encouraged to follow.
And, the four-week timeframe for suspending competitions will allow two 14-day incubation cycles of the virus to pass before teams begin competing against each other, according to the press release.
“We’re fighting every day to protect our most vulnerable citizens, keep our businesses open, keep kids in school and save our winter sports season,” Burgum said. “And we need everyone to engage in this effort and do everything they can to help bend the curve.”
Winter sports for area schools include wrestling, girls and boys hockey, girls and boys basketball and cheer.